Veterans ministry continues to provide food relief, companionship

Refillable backpacks, community meals available at Madison Heights United Methodist

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published February 3, 2016


MADISON HEIGHTS — The military is its own world, and even those who don’t see combat still sacrifice much being away from home. Yet despite national slogans such as “Support Our Troops,” many servicemen and women feel abandoned once they leave the military. Some suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and slip through cracks in the system, unable to get the help they need.

That’s why Madison Heights United Methodist Church, 246 E. 11 Mile Road, is trying to do its part to help those who served the country.

The church’s veterans ministry, founded last year, includes refillable backpacks — nylon bags stuffed with nonperishable food, toiletry items and more, available to any veteran at any time. They’re lightweight and easy to carry, and once they’re empty, the veterans can come back for more.

The church also provides community meals: one brunch and one dinner each month. Veterans eat free at the events. Everyone else pays a small donation, with the exception of the youngest kids. The proceeds from the brunch support the veterans ministry, while the dinner supports the church’s general fund.

The next brunch is Sunday, Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The next dinner is Saturday, Feb. 20, beginning at 5:30 p.m. The cost is $8 for adults, $5 for children, and free for kids ages 3 and younger. And again, veterans eat free.

“I think it’s going well,” said Pastor Rhonda Osterman. “We have around 20 veterans. Some of them show up every time we have a meal, and we’ll refill their backpacks for them. A lot of them just like having someone to sit and talk with them. They’ll talk to each other and to our church members, and we’ve gotten to know them.”

At Christmastime, there was a dinner with a choir concert and sing-along, a speech on benefits available through the VA, and a gift distribution including stockings and more. The plan is to do something similar around Easter as well.

The Meijer on 13 Mile Road contributed funds for food bundles, enough to provide whole holiday dinners for the veterans that Christmas. And Osterman’s place of employment, the McNaughton-McKay Electric Co., donated funds for the catered meal that evening.

In getting to know the veterans, the church has also helped them through difficult times. One of the veterans lost his wife unexpectedly, and the church was there to support him. Another was in the hospital, and when he came home, he needed a ramp to get up to his porch without using the steps. One of the church members who had been in a wheelchair recently passed away, so his widow donated their ramp to the vet.

“To me, it’s just amazing the way people have gotten on board with helping the veterans,” Osterman said.

She noted that there are many veterans who feel forgotten, who are unemployed or underemployed, disabled or living day to day. Some are suffering from PTSD and have a higher rate of drug and alcohol abuse, sometimes becoming homeless.

David Soltis, a member of the Madison Heights City Council, said it’s unsettling to think of how the country neglects its veterans.

“You hear about vets slipping through the cracks all the time, especially after Iraq and Afghanistan and the Gulf Wars. And not too long ago, there was the vet (in Hazel Park) who died because they turned off his heat. So there is a tremendous need to help vets acclimate back into society after seeing the horrors of war,” Soltis said. “I think, as a society, we have an obligation to do everything we can to help them because of the tremendous sacrifices they made for this country. Anything we can do to make the vets feel less alienated from society and the community, the better.”

Madison Heights United Methodist Church is located at 246 E. 11 Mile Road. The next brunch is Sunday, Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The next dinner is Saturday, Feb. 20, beginning at 5:30 p.m. The cost is $8 for adults, $5 for children, and free for kids ages 3 and younger. Veterans eat free. For more information on this and the refillable backpacks, call (248) 544-3544.