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By Contributing Editor Blair Drake
Robert Brunner served his country from 1976-78 as a security specialist. “I walked the flight line at Dover [Air Force Base, Del.] for two years,” he said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. last year, Brunner was receiving Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. But then all of his side worked stopped, and he lost income.
Like Brunner, veteran Gregory Osborn struggled to secure employment because of the pandemic. To make matters worse, his vehicle was in need of repairs, and he didn’t have the money to have the work done.
The fund, which launched April 15, 2020, offers financial assistance for active duty servicemembers and veterans and their spouses, caregivers, and survivors who are experiencing unexpected, short-term financial setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It provides grants of up to $500 to help with rent and utilities payments, housing for homeless veterans and families, meal assistance, and other needed items.
Since June 2020, the program has received more than 290 applications — including 98 chapter-affiliated applications — and has awarded over $130,000 in grants.
“I have witnessed firsthand the impact the COVID-19 Relief Grant program has had on my community,” said Lt. Col. Bobbie Williams, USA (Ret), community outreach and veterans’ affairs officer, Treasure Coast Chapter. “The smiles on the faces of the veterans we serve are priceless.”
With the help of the Treasure Coast Chapter, Brunner and Osborn both received grants. They are among nearly 20 veterans the chapter has assisted.
“I am so grateful,” Osborn said. “The money will allow me to tune up my vehicle and get back in the work force.”
According to Amanda Centers, MOAA vice president of Development, the need for assistance in the veterans’ community is immense.
“We’ve found a gap in support for the veterans’ community during the pandemic, which is why we make those who didn’t serve a full career, as well as caregivers and survivors, a priority when judging grants,” she said. “Typically, this group isn’t eligible to receive support from military relief services.”
She added that MOAA chapters have been instrumental to reaching this segment of the veterans’ population.
[RELATED: Chapter Helps Veterans Obtain COVID Grants]
“Many of our chapters already are dedicated to supporting veterans locally and often are partnering with other community groups to provide assistance,” Centers said. “Because of this, MOAA affiliates like the Treasure Coast Chapter are able to identify and reach out to those who are struggling and in need of support.”
In the Treasure Coast Chapter, Williams and other members have been committed to helping homeless and at-risk veterans and their families for nearly a decade. The chapter has partnered with Sarah’s Kitchen, the Treasure Coast Homeless Coalition, and the United Veterans of Saint Lucie County to serve meals and provide hygiene items and clothing to the local homeless population. Not surprisingly, the need has increased since the pandemic began.
“Prior to the pandemic, we were serving about 1,250 meals and providing 600 hygiene packets and 20 bins of clothing a month,” said Williams. “Since the pandemic, we are serving approximately 1,650 meals, 800 personal hygiene kits, and 25 bins of clothing to our local community. About 20% of those we serve are veterans and their families.”
Williams said he has seen an increase in the number of veterans applying for the COVID-19 grant program, compared to 2020. “As COVID-19 lingers and spreads, it continues to pose a grave danger, especially in our veteran community struggling with health care, food, rent, and other insecurities,” he said.
He is grateful for the fund and all who have contributed to it. He is hopeful that generosity will continue so his chapter can continue to support their fellow veterans like Brunner and Osborn.
“When I am helping our homeless veterans and families, I am reminded that I will never leave a fallen comrade,” Williams said. “I see veterans in the same way. We have a duty and obligation to help them and never leave them during their struggles and while hurting.”
Blair Drake is a contributing editor for MOAA and lives in Souderton, Pa. She previously served on the editorial team of Military Officer magazine for nine years.