Vietnam veteran gives and receives help

Dan poses in front of his car

After spending his working years in the construction industry, Dan is now spending his retirement fixing up his home – and fixing neighbors’ doors, windows and leaks, too.

“I’m doing as much work now as I did before,” he said, laughing at the thought of being “retired.” At 70, he believes staying active keeps him healthy.

Dan poses in front of his car

When he’s not repairing neighbors’ homes, Dan is hunting for deer or fishing somewhere in Ionia County. He shared that his PTSD – a result of 13 months spent in Vietnam – flares up when he’s around people, but he still goes out of his way to be neighborly.

To help make ends meet each month, Dan attends Mobile Food Pantries, where he receives boxes full of fresh produce and other food. If he has extra food after attending, Dan shares with a neighbor down the street who, in turn, makes him homemade bread. Last month, he traded two bags of apples for her homemade pies. Dan also shares venison with neighbors and has often donated whole deer to others in need.

“If someone does well, somebody else does well, too,” he said of his community.

Veterans like Dan with physical and mental health challenges are far more likely to face hunger – and the detrimental health effects that come along with it – than those without these challenges, according to a study by IMPAQ. In fact, the rate of hunger is 35 percent among veterans facing mental illness, while only 3.4 percent among others.

Volunteers pack boxes of food

Dan’s neighborly spirit is mirrored by many in Ionia County, including the 30+ church members who run Mount Hope Church’s Mobile Pantries each month, sponsored by the Ionia County Community Foundation.

The church’s food distributions bring in smaller crowds than some of the others in Feeding America West Michigan’s service area – but many, like Dan, go through the line a second time, and share with neighbors who lack transportation.

“It’s really important for us to be involved in this,” said Nancyanne, the pastor’s wife who helps run the Mobile Pantries. “I have a tendency to go, ‘oh woe is me,’ but this brings you out of yourself, when you’re able to serve others.”

Pam packs food

Pam, who has served ever since the church began hosting food distributions three years ago, thinks this opportunity is perfect for any retiree wanting to give back.

“It’s easy, it’s fun, it’s social, it’s safe – and it meets a need in the community,” she said.

The food bank knows firsthand the importance of communities coming together for a greater goal – to end hunger. With the combined efforts of Mount Hope Church, neighbors like Dan and supporters like the Ionia County Community Foundation, we know all neighbors in Ionia County will one day have full plates.

Story written by Communication Specialist Juliana Ludema.