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March through Reading raises awareness of hunger among Berks veterans

Reading Eagle - 6/8/2024

With a growing number of Berks County veterans struggling to afford food, three local entities partnered on Saturday to raise awareness of the problem and provide groceries and other necessities to veterans in need.

A group of people marched more than two miles from the William Penn Memorial Fire Tower on Skyline Drive to the City Park in Reading, where the monthly stand down for veterans was being held.

Participants in the truck march had their backpacks filled with donated items, which they delivered to the stand down, an event organized by the Veterans Coalition of Pennsylvania.

A total of 1,800 items were collected.

Some of the items were handed out there to the veterans who attended the stand down, and the remainder will allow the coalition to stock up for its coming events.

Teaming with the coalition to stage the march and food collection were the Berks County Department of Veterans Affairs and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

Jay Ostrich, director of the Berks veterans office, has said that a growing number of veterans are calling his office because they are in financial crisis, which helped prompt the food drive.

“This march today is really symbolic. We’re carrying those heavy cans down, and it’s symbolic of the heavy burden our veterans face every day here in Berks County. And we’re hoping that when we take that burden off our backs, we’re also taking the burden off their backs.”

Many veterans are on fixed incomes, he said, and with grocery costs increasing their money doesn’t go as far as it used to.

Dozens of veterans contact his office each week because they are having a hard time making ends meet, he said.

The veterans coalition holds a veterans stand down on the second Saturday of each month at City Park and the fourth Saturday of each month in Pottstown’s Memorial Park, where bags of food, clothing, a hot meal and other necessities are given to dozens of veterans in need and other services are provided.

Coalition President Chris Spohn said he also has seen the need for food increase.

More veterans are having to make need-based decisions such as whether to direct their money toward groceries medicine, or gas to help them get to their jobs, he said.

Staff Sgt. Brandon Jacoby, who is a recruiter with the National Guard’s station in Muhlenberg, hopes Saturday’s event made people realize how many local veterans need support.

Hopefully they, too, will contribute to the cause, he said.


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