NATICK, Mass. (Feb. 24, 2022) -- Thirty-two Soldiers from the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine and Natick Soldier Systems Center ruck marched four miles with 825 pounds of canned food, bagged rice and other items to A Place to Turn, an emergency food pantry based in Natick, Massachusetts, on February 23. The exercise culminated a food drive USARIEM undertook this winter to benefit the MetroWest community.
Army Capt. William Neumeier, commander of USARIEM’s Detachment Office, said the Institute was motivated to start a food drive after reading recent articles about Service Members struggling with food insecurity. According to a 2021 report by Feeding America, as many as 160,000 active-duty military members are having trouble feeding their families.
While USARIEM has hosted canned food drives in previous years, this was the first time the Institute worked with A Place to Turn. The pantry’s mission is to provide emergency food, diapers and personal care items to those in need. The effort would not just help Service Members but civilians too. Neumeier hoped it would boost all USARIEM members’ morale as they continued improving Warfighter health and performance in the lab or from home.
“We were looking for ways to help bring the unit together in creative, collaborative and positive ways throughout the COVID-19 and telework environments,” Neumeier said. “This canned food drive is a way to demonstrate what we can do when we come together.”
Those who struggle to feed themselves and their families have a heavy burden, and USARIEM volunteered to shoulder the load. On the morning of the march, each person loaded their rucksacks with 20 to 30 pounds of food. While the load is typical for a Soldier, Capt. Neumeier noted that it represented something different.
“These people volunteered to help others to their left and right, whether across the sea or close to home,” Neumeier said. “This is one opportunity to do that, plus get some fitness in.”
Karen McCullough, a food resource and nutrition coordinator from A Place to Turn, said that most of the food would end up in people’s homes throughout twenty local communities by this weekend. Families or individuals in need can visit the pantry to receive a week’s worth of food. All they need to provide is a proof of address dated within the last 30 days.
“There should never be food insecurity,” McCullough said. “If they need it, anyone can reach out to us. We will provide them food.”
The pantry provides information on donation methods and a complete list of requested items, which change throughout the year, on their website, www.aplacetoturn-natick.org.