For 35-years, Bill McCann owned a construction business in Rhode Island, building homes and condos. But in 2015, after a hard winter that dumped 73 inches of snow that didn’t melt until May, McCann and his wife Sandra, decided to retire and move south to Charleston, S.C.
Although they appreciated the beauty of Charleston, they soon realized that the extreme heat and humidity wasn’t for them. Traveling back to a more temperate climate, they discovered Radford … and decided to stay. “Everything just clicked. We liked the slower pace; and the people and students seemed very friendly and polite,” said McCann.
Although McCann has retired from the construction business, he never stops working – and instead devotes his time and energy to his 501©3 charitable organization, Vittles for Vets, that had its beginnings in Rhode Island.
Now headquartered in Virginia, Vittles for Vets/Radford services approximately 70 veterans by supplying a much needed food gift card to Kroger or Wal-Mart on a bi-weekly basis. Cards range in value from $50 to $100 depending on the size of the family.
McCann explains how Vittles for Vets began.
“In 2014, while living in Rhode Island, I visited a VA Hospital and met a veteran who had been basically homeless for six months, eating at food pantries and soup kitchens. When I took him to lunch and gave him a $50 gift card for groceries, he broke down and cried. That’s when I realized we have a problem … when those who served our country in the military cannot afford to feed themselves or their families. It is a shame that children of vets have to go without. This isn’t political. People who have given so much for this country shouldn’t be put in a position to go without food.”
McCann describes Vittles for Vets as a hand-up program for those men and women who have served our country and now are in need of some assistance.
“Many vets live on an income of $11,000 – $12,000 per year, and the number of vets living at or below poverty level seeking our assistance is growning at an alarming rate. The need has far outpaced our donations, and we do not receive any federal or state funding, but rely fully on the generosity of individuals and organizations. We have been constantly maintaining 4 percent overhead. No one gets paid a salary or for gas, etc. Most of our 15 volunteers chip in and buy items on their own to help out,” explains McCann.
Veterans must qualify to receive a food gift card from Vittles for Vets, and agree that the food gift card will be used only for the purchase of wholesome, nutritious food items. The purchase of ice cream, sodas, junk food, alcohol or tobacco products with the gift card is strictly forbidden. McCann requires the vet to return the used gift card and cash register receipts before receiving another card. He carefully checks each receipt to ensure it is within the stated guidelines of wholesome food purchases.
“We have very strict rules for a reason. We have a responsibility to the people who invest in this program to ensure that the gift card goes for the right venue and right people,” adds McCann.
A vet interested in applying for the Vittles for Vets program must meet several criteria and be properly vetted by a VA Medical Center staff member, a member of clergy or a veteran’s organization such as the American Legion or the VFW. Additionally, the vet must be other than dishonorably discharged from a branch of the U.S. military; be at or below the federal poverty level; and be drug free and alcohol independent.
“We are being proactive making sure Vets are eating proper food to help keep them healthy, and this also helps boost their self-image. We didn’t consider the psychological aspect until I attended a funeral of a vet who died from complications of Agent Orange. At separate times during the funeral, family members told me that getting the food gift card improved his physical as well as psychological well-being,” McCann said.
McCann says that 25 percent of their funding comes from holding events, like those sponsored by the Dublin Moose and the Dublin Lions Club. Another 25 percent comes from individual donors, but they need to increase their donor base to include corporations, businesses, churches and other organizations.
Vittles for Vets will be one of four recepients at the Saturday, August 17th Honorfest Exhibition Softball Game in Salem. That pits local celebrities against military veterans. Music by Jame Lagueux begins at 4 p.m., the game starts at 5:35 p.m. Proceeds benefit Vittles for Vets, Trust House, Military Family Support Center and Healing Strides of Virginia. Admission is free to veterans with ID.
“Corporations / businesses / churches could host a vet for a year for a $2,600 donation,” McCann said. “Vittles for Vets has a Red-White-Blue program which people can help fund. Red support would be a $2,600.00 donation. White would be supporting a vet for six months by donating $1,300. And blue would be support in any amount.”
“We appreciate all donations, but we need to increase our donor base for year-round support. Many people want to send in money for the holidays, and that’s great – but what happens in January when the food is gone? Hunger doesn’t take a holiday.”
To volunteer with Vittles for Vets or make a donation, please contact: Bill McCann 401-447-5912 or go to the website: https://www.vittlesforvetsradfordva.com/ or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Vittles-for-Vets-Radford-VA-567225133417514/
By DANIELLE REID, The Patriot