Tammy Decker, John Bartlett, and Jim Bowie stop for a photo outside the Veterans Association’s office in Grande Prairie, Alta. on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. The organization is comprised of veterans helping veterans and are currently collecting food for their food bank. (Photo by Jesse Boily)Jesse Boily

The Veterans Association Food Bank started operating in the City of Grande Prairie in May to help local veterans.

Since they began operations, more than 20 veterans have been assisted.

“What we do is veterans helping veterans, and it gives the receiver a sense of purpose as well because they want to give back,” said Jim Bowie, a volunteer and veteran at the Veterans Food Bank.

The food bank is only a portion of the help the Veterans Association is providing local veterans as it also helps them navigate the Veterans Affairs website and provides assistance with home maintenance, medical needs and pet care. 

The food bank helps the association identify veterans in need, said Marie Blackburn, Veterans Association executive director.

“It’s nice that people remember us on Remembrance Day, but these guys served 365 days a year; they need help 365 days a year,” she said.

The Veterans Association started in Calgary and then expanded to Edmonton, where it found a need for veterans north of Edmonton.

She said the organization started with emergency funding programs that helped veterans cover rent and bills but found the food bank was a way to find veterans who needed additional help. 

It has since also led to other programs the association provides, such as its Pet Promises program, which assists veterans with veterinarian bills. She said in the first six months of the Pet Promise program, $44,000 in veterinarian bills were processed to keep veterans’ pets safe and healthy.

Locally, the association is looking for food and monetary donations for its food bank and to provide veterans with medical assistance for items like hearing aids.

Bowie said veterans also receive assistance to help them navigate their Veterans Affairs Canada accounts.

“A lot of people may have been online with a Veterans Affairs account, but they have no idea how much more there is available,” he said.

Blackburn said the association also provides welfare checks on veterans when dropping off food hampers and can assist with lawn care or snow removal.

She said volunteering is another way people can help the association by making up hampers or providing other services to help veterans. 

“The only way this works all the way around is if we get our communities involved and get them to pitch in and help,” said Blackburn.

To help veterans is heartwarming, says John Bartlett, Grande Prairie Veterans Association operations coordinator.

“It’s awesome to help them through what they’ve been through, and they don’t have to explain to us all the details like they would have to if it was somebody else because we know what they’ve been through,” he said.

Donations can be dropped off at the local Veterans Association location at 9508-100 St. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and food donations are being accepted at hampers across the city, including at the Grande Prairie Legion, and monetary donations are accepted by e-transfer at gp@vafb.ca.

“I think we have to really take the time to remember our veterans and understand that the reason we get to live in a peaceful country,” said Blackburn.

“There’s a lot going on right now where people don’t have this freedom and have this time to be together, so I think that it’s really important that we start remembering them more and more each day.”

By Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Nov 30, 2023 at 09:52

This item reprinted with permission from   Town & Country News   Beaverlodge, Alberta

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