Food pantry serves struggling military personnel |

Food pantry serves struggling military personnel

A military woman and her two sons pick up food at the Hand Up Food Pantry.
The Hagstrom Report

SAN DIEGO — For anyone who wonders if military families could need food assistance, a visit to the Hand Up Food Pantry in Murphy Canyon near Camp Pendleton is a sobering lesson.

Here, about 50 families — sometimes women alone with their children, some accompanied by their husbands — show up to wait for the monthly truck of supplies brought by Jewish Family Services of San Diego.

Some attendees are willing to speak openly to a reporter, others are too embarrassed or worried that being seen going to a food bank might damage their reputations within their military. Using their names seems like an invasion of privacy, but a picture emerges of military personnel and their needs.

The military personnel who come to the Hand Up Food Pantry are not desperate or starving, like people who come to food banks in the inner city. They are proud to be serving their country. But they also have problems — particularly in southern California.

Many of the enlisted personnel who are stationed in Southern California come from the south or the rural Midwest, where the cost of living and the style of life are much cheaper. Some are offered credit cards for the first time and become mired in debt that leads to food insecurity.

And then there are the practical problems. One military wife noted that the military does not want to ship partially used food, and moving to each base requires “rebuilding the pantry” each time. Another said that military families in Hawaii get a cost of living adjustment but that they don’t get one in California, which is also much more expensive than in other parts of the country. Moving from Hawaii to California means a loss of about $1,000 in income per month, said one woman.

“Every penny has a place,” said one military wife, noting that she is a full-time student. Another with a special-needs child said putting food on the table is difficult for her.

The end of the pay period is particularly tough, said one woman as she picked up shelf-stable milk.

Going to the food bank means more than picking up some basic foodstuffs or some fresh fruit and vegetables that would be otherwise unaffordable.

It also means meeting the neighbors and maybe getting counseling from STEP, the Support the Enlisted Project on hand at the pantry to assist junior active-duty enlisted members and recently discharged enlisted veterans and their families facing financial crisis in achieving long-term financial self-sufficiency.

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