Food pantry founder shares mission of battling military family food insecurity with volunteers

By Prudence Siebert - Fort Leavenworth Lamp EditorFebruary 29, 2024

Editor’s Note: The Fort Leavenworth Lamp, together with Army Community Service, will be spotlighting a Fort Leavenworth organization each month leading up to the Volunteer Recognition Ceremony in April to let the community know about volunteering opportunities.

Stronghold Food Pantry Founder and CEO Monica Bassett shows volunteers where food and other items are kept, while sharing with them some of the pantry’s procedures, during a volunteer orientation session Feb. 21, 2024, in the basement of Armed Forces Insurance, 655 Biddle Boulevard, on Fort Leavenworth, Kan. To volunteer, register in the Volunteer Management Information System at https://vmis.armyfamilywebportal.com/. Schedule appointments for groceries, diapers and other ongoing programs and special events at https://www.strongholdfoodpantry.org/. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Stronghold Food Pantry Founder and CEO Monica Bassett shows volunteers where food and other items are kept, while sharing with them some of the pantry’s procedures, during a volunteer orientation session Feb. 21, 2024, in the basement of Armed Forces Insurance, 655 Biddle Boulevard, on Fort Leavenworth, Kan. To volunteer, register in the Volunteer Management Information System at https://vmis.armyfamilywebportal.com/. Schedule appointments for groceries, diapers and other ongoing programs and special events at https://www.strongholdfoodpantry.org/. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp (Photo Credit: Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp) VIEW ORIGINAL
Stronghold Food Pantry Founder and CEO Monica Bassett gives volunteers a tour of the pantry during a volunteer orientation session Feb. 21, 2024, in the basement of Armed Forces Insurance, 655 Biddle Boulevard, on Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Bassett said Stronghold is committed to finding solutions to provide more fresh produce and healthier options for the community, which will be easier with the commercial-grade refrigerator that was recently donated by the Rotary Working for Vets KC, part of the Kansas City-Plaza Rotatory Club in Kansas City, Mo. "Their support is invaluable to continuing our mission: to serve American military families facing food insecurity with care and dignity by providing food, necessities and resources whenever and wherever they are needed." Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Stronghold Food Pantry Founder and CEO Monica Bassett gives volunteers a tour of the pantry during a volunteer orientation session Feb. 21, 2024, in the basement of Armed Forces Insurance, 655 Biddle Boulevard, on Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Bassett said Stronghold is committed to finding solutions to provide more fresh produce and healthier options for the community, which will be easier with the commercial-grade refrigerator that was recently donated by the Rotary Working for Vets KC, part of the Kansas City-Plaza Rotatory Club in Kansas City, Mo. "Their support is invaluable to continuing our mission: to serve American military families facing food insecurity with care and dignity by providing food, necessities and resources whenever and wherever they are needed." Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp (Photo Credit: Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp) VIEW ORIGINAL
Stronghold Food Pantry Founder and CEO Monica Bassett shows volunteers where food and other items are kept, while sharing with them some of the pantry’s procedures, during a volunteer orientation session Feb. 21, 2024, in the basement of Armed Forces Insurance, 655 Biddle Boulevard, on Fort Leavenworth, Kan. To volunteer, register in the Volunteer Management Information System at https://vmis.armyfamilywebportal.com/. Schedule appointments for groceries, diapers and other ongoing programs and special events at https://www.strongholdfoodpantry.org/. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Stronghold Food Pantry Founder and CEO Monica Bassett shows volunteers where food and other items are kept, while sharing with them some of the pantry’s procedures, during a volunteer orientation session Feb. 21, 2024, in the basement of Armed Forces Insurance, 655 Biddle Boulevard, on Fort Leavenworth, Kan. To volunteer, register in the Volunteer Management Information System at https://vmis.armyfamilywebportal.com/. Schedule appointments for groceries, diapers and other ongoing programs and special events at https://www.strongholdfoodpantry.org/. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp (Photo Credit: Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp) VIEW ORIGINAL

An orientation session was conducted Feb. 21 for new and current volunteers at Stronghold Food Pantry in the Armed Forces Insurance building on Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

“Where we are at now with Stronghold is obviously not where I started by myself in 2022 — that’s where you come into play,” Monica Bassett, Stronghold Food Pantry founder and chief executive officer, told the gathered volunteers. “We have had amazing volunteers who step up and say ‘I’ve got this talent, this skill, this asset that could benefit the community.’”

Bassett said it was vital to not only have every legal aspect of the organization perfectly in place, but to also make sure the volunteers feel welcome.

Volunteers were provided a history of the organization, an overview of how the pantry functions, and a synopsis of the organization’s mission: to help fellow community members.

“In 2023, I was very focused on cultivating the nature of how we treat our patriots, because we need to treat them with respect, with dignity, because at some point, everyone needs a hand up, whether it is financially or food or a child care crisis, when emergencies happen. Sometimes it is assistance because a loved one passes away,” Bassett said. “At some point, people need a hand up, and right now, our community is hurting in this one aspect (of food insecurity), and if we can help with that, then we can create ripple effects across globally.”

In the past year, Stronghold has helped provide food for military families in 13 states, four countries, with 5,000 pounds of food distributed in Leavenworth and Lansing community and 70,000 pounds of food distributed in total.

Bassett said the on-boarding session for volunteers was important so that they understood why the pantry was stood up and why it is necessary on a military installation. She said that more than 24 percent of military families are food insecure, a 2022 statistic that has increased considerably since food prices continue to escalate. Add to that military members waiting months for move reimbursements, with added interest and debt and other factors, and the situation becomes even more challenging.

Bassett said that because of how earnings statements are interpreted, military families often don’t quality for assistance, but the civilian equivalent, such as paying a mortgage versus basic housing allowance, allows a civilian counterpart to qualify.

“Stronghold helps fill that gap and help those military families,” she said.

She said few are aware of the extent of food security issue and that military families are being disqualified for assistance.

“I wasn’t aware when I started helping people in 2021… I wore rose-colored sunglasses because I thought everyone was just the same because of the way I lived, that everyone must be living in the same way. It was until I took (the sunglasses off) that I realized that, no, they might have the same house because we’re on post and (the houses) all look alike, but what is happening within that home is different,” she said. “Everyone’s circumstances are different, whether you are enlisted or officer, these things do not make a difference — if you are in need, that is why we are here, and that is what we established Stronghold to be.”

She asked the volunteers to take that to heart and have passion for volunteering. She told them that if they find they want to continue volunteering with Stronghold after they PCS, there are remote ways they can still help.

“I have found that feeding people is my passion, it is my life’s work, this is my jam. But I want everyone to have that same kind of feeling when they give up their time because time is valuable. I want you to feel that same sense of reward and accomplishment when you give to Stronghold.”