Rosedale American Legion volunteers distribute food to hundreds in need

Photos by Todd Maisel

The line to the American Legion Post 483 in Rosedale, Queens, snaked around the block along Brookville Boulevard Wednesday afternoon.

Those waiting were asked to keep distance between each other, and wear masks. But it was worth the few hours’ wait to get much-needed food provided by a multitude of agencies to help people during this COVID-19 and the associated economic crisis.

“My husband lost his job, and we are just trying to get by. But even grocery prices have gone through the roof; I spend $500 a month and it just keeps getting more expensive,” said Marlene Hurley, a resident of Rosedale. “Getting this food is so important to my family and look how many people are here. It really helps.”

This food distribution pantry is one of four American Legion pantries and one soup kitchen in the south Queens area. They each serve 300 to 400 people each week, Legion officials say.

The American Legion post is made up of veterans of all branches of the military, led by its Commander, Lee Blackmon, Vietnam Veteran going back to 1969 combat duty. But Blackmon realizes that he is now in another war with “an enemy that we can’t see.”

“A lot of people are out of work so this time so we doing our most important work here in the pantry,” Blackmon said.  “We are helping the pantry to distribute the food — we cannot be a veterans organization without being here for the community.”

Blackmon, whose post has been working the food pantry for six years even before COVID-19, said they are down many volunteers because of “fear of coronavirus.”

“There is not a lot of volunteering because of the fear, so the people who are coming out during this pandemic are some of the most brave people I have ever met,” he said. “Even though we are a veterans organization, we are warriors and a lot of warriors have died — that these volunteers have come out to give food for people who don’t have is the best thing.”

He continued, “I’ve been to Vietnam and I’ve seen the wars but I’ve never seen nothing like this. People are putting their lives on the line. People are dying and getting sick, but the volunteers are coming out here. There couldn’t be anything better.”

Much of the food is supplied from a variety of sources including City Harvest, the Food Bank Senior Program, and from Bishop Adrian Beaumont of Church of God in Christ at Blake Avenue in Brooklyn, who brought a van loaded with bread.

“We are here to do our part to help our fellow man,” Bishop Beaumont said. “We must all help each other in this difficult time.”

Major Sharon Sweeting-Lindsey, vice commander of post 483 and director for the food pantry, led a prayer service with volunteers before opening the doors to the long line of people in need. She was proud that despite two food deliveries being canceled, they had plenty for the community.

And like a true military commander, the discipline of her troops and those she’s serving are important. Vets marked the ground outside for social distancing. Commander Blackmon and other vets patrolled the line, everyone wearing masks. Tables were set up inside the 100-year-old building, a former public school, where each person was given a choice of what food they needed. Bags were also put together for delivery to home-bound seniors.

“As a retired major and dietician I’ve always been in the area of foodservice, so when I retired, I make sure all of our military posts engaged in selfless service to the community,” Lindsey said. “The challenge is people who have never visited a food pantry are now coming to our pantry. We’ve seen exponential growth in terms of how many people are coming. Some come with a little bit of shame because they never visited a pantry before. We try to take the indignity out of it. We make them feel welcome, feel that we are here to help them. We greet them, and make sure they get all the food they need. We try to make it a welcoming experience.”

This story first appeared on amny.com.

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