Struggling Berrien County veterans receive free holiday meal baskets

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – On Wednesday, December 7, Berrien County Veterans were given a helping hand in the form of a holiday meal basket—filled with a turkey, bottles of water, biscuits, dessert and personal care items.

“Unfortunately there’s not a cook in there,” joked Mendez Holliday, with event sponsor United Healthcare. “We’d like to send someone home with a good cook, so good luck everybody!”

The event, put together by the Michigan VA, Berrien County Veteran’s Services, the Berrien County Health Department, the Battle Creek VA Medical Center, the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund—and others—planned on handing out 150 of those baskets to veterans in need, starting at 1:00pm.

“The main idea was just to thank vets for their service, and this is a great time to do it, around the holidays,” said Larry Wozniak, President of Lest We Forget.

Some worried that there might have been too much food.

Holliday said “At our last event, we had a lot of leftovers, and I was sad about that. That was due to weather and the time change.”

But as it turned out, there wasn’t enough!

There was so much interest from veterans in Berrien County, that the volunteers opened up the gates at 12:30pm—and just an hour later, the food was all passed out, and the volunteers were packing up.

“Well leave it to the veterans to be early!” joked Matthew Lannert, a Marine Corps veteran volunteering to pass out the meals.

Despite all the baskets getting passed out, the county worked to make sure that the veterans who turned up before the event ended at 3:00 would still get their holiday meal.

“They’re going to take their name and address—and the Berrien County Foundation is going to provide food baskets to anyone who shows up from now until 3:00,” said Lindell Holm, a Marine Corps veteran and director of the Michigan Veterans Trust Fund.

He was thankful the event was so successful, especially on Pearl Harbor Day.

“That’s pretty significant,” said Holm. “It is a day that we remember in our military history and our history as a nation, and so it is a great opportunity to take that day and turn it around with a positive memory to help veterans who responded to the call and served our nation honorably.”

And the volunteers were thankful to be able to support fellow veterans.

Lannert said, “It’s nice to be able to give back.”

“It’s just a phenomenal success.” added Holm. “The fact that the collaboration that we’ve had with the county and it’s fantastic. This community is really standing up for their veterans, it makes me very proud and what an exciting opportunity to be able to join with them and serve their veterans.”

And that success is not just for Berrien County veterans, according to Jad Itawi—with the Battle Creek VA Medical Center.

“It shows that we need continual services,” Itawi said. “If we have one or two that show up, fantastic. Great. But when we show up in larger numbers with larger needs, it goes to a lot higher voices, beyond Benton Harbor and beyond Battle Creek. It’ll go to the state level and eventually to the federal level, showing that there is a need for veterans.”

This meal giveaway is just one of a series that are taking place throughout Michigan. The next event will be in Paw Paw, in Van Buren County, on December 14.

And if you are a veteran in need, Holm advises to call 1-800-MICH-VET for assistance.

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