Vietnam Veterans Give Out Meals to 300 Families

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20-year holiday tradition for Vietnam Veterans
by Kirk Moore and Lauren O. Kidd

TOMS RIVER Thirty-five years ago, these men were carrying sandbags, ammunition, wounded comrades on stretchers.

Tuesday, under a cold sun, Vietnam veterans passed out turkeys and bantering like the young warriors they once were.

“Nice pickup truck. Where’d you get it?”

“You know what they used to say: “How many Marines does it take to drive a truck? One to turn the key and two to push it.’ “

Laughter rolled across the parking lot, along with carts of food bound for about 300 households in need.

The annual project has grown since 1986, when Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 200, Brick, started by collecting food for a half-dozen families, recalled John P. Dorrity, director of the Ocean County Veterans Service Bureau.

“We do a lot with single mothers and veterans’ families,” said Dorrity, a former Army aviator who’s worked for the veterans program since 1995 and brought the annual holiday food drive with him to the county office…

     

“This is important. If we don’t take care of the weakest links, we’re nothing as a society.”

About a dozen veterans turn out to help in the collection and distribution, and do their bit to bring the operation together. One man has friends in the trucking business who helped transport about 250 turkeys and food packages from the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars District 12 helps collect food, as does the American Legion, other veterans groups and a number of private donors, Dorrity said.

Chuck Hogan of VVA Chapter 200 leaned against the bed of his pickup truck, which was loaded with bundles wrapped in supermarket bags. Canned peaches and boxes of Goya rice mixes bulged under the plastic.

Students at schools in Lacey, Toms River and Lakewood collect food, too, Hogan said. The distribution is set up with help from local veterans groups and churches. The group’s most distant shipment is 30 turkeys and food packages distributed through the VetWorks office in Trenton, he said.

Meanwhile, members of Ocean County Hunger Relief will be picking up more than 600 microwavable Thanksgiving meals today that have been prepared by students of the Ocean County Vocational-Technical School in Brick.

The full-course meals, which include turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and vegetables, will be given to “those we consider most vulnerable,” said Carol Latif, executive director of Ocean County Hunger Relief.

The group will distribute the meals based on its master list of county motels where the transitory reside. Latif said the microwavable meals are essential because some people do not have a stove and cannot have a meal, even if they are given a turkey.

Latif thanked those who have donated food for the holiday season, but wanted to remind donors that the needs of the hungry are “all year.” Food bank managers reported donations are fewer and food supplies are tighter than usual this year, Dorrity said.

Ocean County Hunger Relief announced that Thursday, Thanksgiving meals will be served at the Shore Vineyard Church in Beachwood, the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Brick, the Macedonia Baptist Church in Lakewood, the Village Lutheran Church in Lanoka Harbor, Lacey, St. Martha Church in Point Pleasant, St. Gregory’s in Point Pleasant Beach, Simon’s Kitchen, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Parish Hall in Seaside Heights, and Jesus is Lord in Toms River.

At the veterans food distribution, John Pessoni of Toms River and Richie Mannes of South Orange handed off the turkeys and food packets from the bed of a panel truck. Like most of the group, Pessoni, a Marine veteran of the Khe Sanh siege in 1968, has been doing it for the better part of a decade now.

“I’m serving as an apprentice,” quipped Mannes, the newcomer. But he enjoys the charitable work. On Thanksgiving Day, he said, “I’ll be at a soup kitchen in Newark.”


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