NORTHAMPTON — A free meal program for veterans that had been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic will resume serving food at new drive-up locations beginning in early November.
The drive-thru meal program will kick off on Nov. 4 from noon to 1 p.m. in the parking lot of the Daily Hampshire Gazette at 115 Conz St., according to Chad Wright, associate director of Building Bridges Veterans Initiative, which is organizing the program. The program will be in this parking lot from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. the first Wednesday of every month, Wright said.
The program will also be serving food at the Elks Lodge in Greenfield on the second Thursday of every month, and at the Elks Lodge in Chicopee the third Friday of every month, both from noon to 1 p.m.
“Hopefully we’ll have some volunteers socially distanced with masks on, maybe holding up signs that say ‘Thank you for your service,’” Wright said. “Kind of like a drive-thru of honor … so that way it’s more of an event.”
Building Bridges Veterans Initiative is a project of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, Wright said, and had been coordinating in-person lunches for veterans on a monthly or weekly basis for over half a decade. The group tries to prevent veteran isolation and veteran suicide by welcoming them to these group lunches, he said.
The in-person lunches had been held in Northampton at the World War II Club before the pandemic, Wright said. But that space was sold to a cheese-making company in July, meaning the group had to find a different place to conduct its meal program in the city.
When the pandemic struck, the initiative had to shut down all of its sites and the in-person meals to follow public health recommendations, Wright said. Many of the veterans who participate in the program have served in Vietnam, Korea and even World War II, meaning they are in a higher risk category for the coronavirus, Wright said.
The in-person lunches had been a good way for veterans to come together around a hot meal and socialize with one another, Wright said, and some veterans had said they felt there was a void when the lunches were canceled.
“Some of them had resorted to having lawn chairs, and they would meet up in veterans’ yards,” Wright said. “Once a week they would get together for coffee in a driveway to try to recreate the Building Bridges atmosphere.”
The new drive-thru iteration of the meal program is way for the initiative to “get back in the game” of helping out veterans who may need assistance during the pandemic without having to do in-person group lunches, Wright said. The group served food at nine sites before the pandemic struck, but had to consolidate to three and move them each to a monthly schedule to keep volunteers safe.
Wright said veterans who come to the program will receive a newsletter and a hot meal, which could be anything from American chop suey with garlic bread and salad to meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy.
“We want to let [the veterans] know, ‘Hey, we’re back, and we’re here for you and thank you for your service,’” Wright said.