Queens food pantry for veterans expands to help many more

Each week the line forms early and seems to get longer at the food pantry for veterans and their neighbors in Hollis, Queens. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the need has swelled.

"People are on unemployment, they don't make enough to pay their rent and bills, this helps out a lot," said Gary Frye, a U.S. Army veteran who lives in federally subsidized housing on Hollis Avenue, where the food pantry is staged on Thursdays. It was originally for the vets housed in the complex but expanded to serve the broader community.

While pre-COVID, the pantry, run by Vets Inc., served about 300 people weekly, now it's closer to 600.

And this week the veterans who came were treated to hot food, PPE and personal supplies including masks, disinfectant wipes and toilet paper from the national non-profit group the Independence Fund.

"We realize that a lot of our veterans have compromised or suppressed immune systems because of time in combat, and it can be especially difficult for them to do shopping in a pandemic," said Faun O'Neel, Special Programs Manager for the Independence Fund, which is supported by Fox Corporation, the parent company of Fox 5 News.

The Independence Fund sponsors Feeding Independence events for veterans around the country. Thursday's was their third event in Queens this week, through which a total of 900 veterans were served.

NYC Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner James Hendon says events like these are crucial to support this vulnerable population

The Independence Fund hopes to return to New York City in November for another event.

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