A new resource for military veterans and their families — a mobile canteen filled with supplies — debuted at Gillette Stadium Sunday.
While the inclement weather forced the cancellation of a planned ceremony to unveil the Mobile Empowerment Center, football fans who braved the steady, driving rain leading up to the late afternoon New England Patriots versus Dallas Cowboys matchup were able to sneak a peak at the custom-designed tractor-trailer, parked outside the stadium’s Bank of America entrance.
“I think it’s very sad that there is a need for something like that, but the truth is it is needed,” said North Attleboro resident Bradley Steele, 56, a veteran who served in the Air Force. “A lot of these folks come back [from tours of duty] and have issues where they can’t enter the work force at the level they need to support themselves and their families.”
“So anything we can do is phenomenal,” added Steele, who is married with two children and works as an information technology director for the state.
The pantry on wheels was created in partnership with the Massachusetts Military Support Foundation and the Ocean State Job Lot Charitable Foundation with support from the Patriots Foundation and other partners.
The custom-designed tractor-trailer includes a refrigerator and freezer to allow for the transport and dissemination of perishable and non-perishable food items. It will also provide clothing, health and beauty products, diapers, toiletries, and other basic necessities.
The unit is scheduled to travel 52 weeks per year, making stops at military bases, Veterans Affairs offices, Veterans Services offices, VFWs, American Legions, and additional sites across the country to connect with military families in need.
Thousands of families are expected to be serviced in the program’s first year, which is kicking off in Massachusetts.
“There are a number of veterans who struggle to provide basic needs for their families, and many of them don’t even know about the benefits that they are eligible to receive,” said Jason Cipriano, 39, a vice president of State Street Bank who lives in Hampstead, N.H., with his wife and three children. “And you also have to consider that veterans have a higher unemployment rate than the general population and that the pay for active duty service members is considerably less than it is in the private sector.”
Edgar Saucier, 23, a Waltham native who lives in Nashua, N.H., is a member of the Massachusetts Army National Guard and said while he was unfamiliar with the new mobile unit, he thinks it’s a “great” idea.
Like Cipriano, Saucier said that oftentimes veterans don’t take advantage of resources available to them and to their families.
“Sometimes they’re not even aware of them,” he said. “I feel like having something like this is helpful. It’s better to do face to face rather than over the phone or online.”
Military personnel were honored at Sunday’s game, with ceremonies before the game. The national anthem was sung by Navy Second Class Rachel Vennel, a vocalist stationed with Navy Band Northeast in Newport, R.I.
“It’s certainly always nice to be appreciated,” said Cipriano, who served in the Navy. “Most veterans I know and served with don’t actively seek out recognition, so when recognition is given, it’s appreciated.”