Most of the shelf space was bare. A few scattered year-old cans of green beans and corn niblets dotted the metal shelving.
Tyrone “Ty” Smith walked into the food pantry and surveyed the remaining shelf-stable items. He shook his head. The Director of Employment and Housing for Operation Stand Down Rhode Island (OSDRI) determined last year’s stock of food pantry items was nearly gone. A new inventory was badly needed. The holidays are approaching.
“This is very important this time of year,” Smith said, standing inside the pantry at the OSDRI headquarters off Hartford Avenue in Johnston. “This food has to last our veterans through the year. We just had a big veteran assistance event, and we handed out a lot of what we had left.”
OSDRI has sounded a call to action to the local community in the days leading up to Veterans Day, on Friday, Nov. 11.
“OSDRI’s veteran food pantry is at a critical low,” said Erik Wallin, Esq. Executive Director of OSDRI. “Following our Annual September Veteran Service Event where hundreds of in-need veterans receive bags of food from our pantry, we typically are able to quickly refill it with donations from the community at-large. This year, it has been slow going. Veterans from around the state rely upon OSDRI’s veteran food pantry to feed themselves and their families. Social Workers from the VA Medical Center often bring food from our pantry to veterans who are shut-in as well. We are looking for a wide assortment of non-perishable food to get us through the next few months.”
On Friday, Oct. 21, OSDRI began seeking support and donations from the local community to help stock the OSDRI food pantry shelves in time for the holidays.
“Due to inflation and rising food prices, our annual Holiday collection drive is imperative this year in order to ensure our Veterans are not forgotten on Veterans Day and do not get left behind through the Holiday Season,” Wallin said. “OSDRI relies on gift cards throughout the year to assist our veterans with groceries, gas and clothing. As we head into the holiday season, this becomes particularly important in order to guarantee that our low-income veterans are able to provide a Thanksgiving meal and a Christmas holiday to their families.”
Smith, an East Providence resident originally from Columbia, South Carolina, looks around the pantry at the remaining canned goods. He sees a small fraction of a Thanksgiving meal (the canned vegetable side dish), but little else.
“We’re starting to gather the Thanksgiving items,” he said, rearranging a few cans.
“We need stuffing, cans of pumpkin pie filling, canned meat — that’s huge, we need a lot of canned meats — cake mixes, dried milk,” Smith explained. We need items that don’t need refrigeration; shelf-stable and dry goods.”
Smith joined the U.S. Army immediately after graduating from high school in 2002. While serving more than six years as a Military Policeman, Smith was stationed in Virginia, Germany and eventually deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, from 2006-08 with the 1st Infantry Division, 2nd Brigade Combat Team Cavalry Scouts. He reached the rank of specialist E-4 (the highest rank attainable for junior enlisted recruits).
In 2008, Ty served as a Subject Matter Expert for the Virtual Army Experience, a mobile video game simulation, while working on his Associates Degree from Bristol Community College (BCC) in Fall River, Massachusetts, according to his biography on the staff section of the OSDRI website. He earned his degree at BCC and then transferred to Brown University, earning his Bachelor of Arts in English.
Prior to landing the job at OSDRI, Smith served as U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s Veterans Affairs Coordinator.
He has a wealth of experience and has encountered countless vets both stateside and in the theater of war. Smith acknowledges, however, that some veterans face their toughest battles after returning home and re-entering society. Assimilation can be near impossible on an empty stomach. The holidays can also be an emotional time of the year for everyone, veterans included.
A few bags of groceries and maybe a gift card to a local supermarket can relieve a huge amount of holiday stress for a veteran in need.
OSDRI is seeking individuals and organizations willing to contribute gift cards and food items between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday at their headquarters, 1010 Hartford Ave., Johnston.
“Our goal is to collect enough food and gift cards by Veterans Day in order to ensure that the veterans we serve can enjoy the holiday season without the stress of having to figure out how to put food on their tables,” Wallin said.
OSDRI is seeking the following food items: canned vegetables, cranberry sauce, gravy, stuffing mix, boxed dessert, and gift cards to local supermarkets.
Gift cards, however, can be easier to distribute and provide veterans with more, sometimes fresher, options.
“If you can’t donate food, gift cards are perfect,” Smith said. “They provide ultimate flexibility.”
Over the years, Smith has done his best to help reach the region’s veterans in need. He’s helped many get food when they’re concerned – maybe they earn too much money or didn’t deploy for combat.
“We’re here to help,” he said. “Soon these shelves will be full again.”