Cars were lined up outside USO’s All-Star warehouse on Jackson Loop, and stretched down the block, waiting for the January Harvest Market to give just a little assistance to an already beleaguered budget. The monthly distribution, which had previously been called Supermarket Sweeps, has been re-worked by USO staff to be safer and even more convenient, according to Amy Altersitz, USO manager of innovations and field operations.
“Families used to park outside, come in and make selections through the warehouse. Now, because of COVID, we’ve set up the drive-and-go style of distribution. Families pull up, pop open their trunks and we load them up, close the trunk, and send them on their way,” Altersitz said. “I think we’ve been able to see more people, especially with kids being home now. They don’t have to worry about getting their children out of the car and put them in strollers. The faces on the kids are pretty cute, as the volunteers like to wave to them. It’s nice to be able to give back.”
Bruce Holthus, USO warehouse manager, said this monthly program is “absolutely wonderful.”
“The first Wednesday of every month, I go to the Capital Area Food Bank, and pick up whatever items are being donated,” Holthus said. “We find out the day before from the Food Bank how many pallets I’m picking up. This month, I picked up five pallets of produce.”
As families drove into place, a team of dedicated volunteers braved the cold wind and pre-sorted and boxed items to speed up the distribution of fresh produce, which included cabbage, potatoes and carrots, along with peanuts, shelf-stable milk, peanut butter, canned fruit, toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
Altersitz said Harvest Market is such a success because of a dedicated team of a dozen volunteers.
“They show up every month, cold or rain, it doesn’t matter. They’re out there greeting the family members, socially distanced. They really enjoy the engagement with the families and we have several volunteers that are prior service, and this is their way to give back to the next generation of Service members and families. It’s really nice to see their connection out there,” she said.
Altersitz said this program helps family budgets to go a little further to provide fresh food for the family.
“Fort Belvoir has been a huge supporter of the program, even during COVID. They’ve worked with us to still be able to do the program safely, and help everybody in the military community. It’s not just Belvoir. Our families come from all over; all the different bases in the area, to receive our food,” said Altersitz.
If you’d like to give back to Service members and their families, Altersitz said the USO is always looking for more volunteers.
“If you can help, not just here at the All-Star Depot on Fort Belvoir, but we also have all our centers in the area. Our seven locations can always use more volunteers. You can sign up and someone from your local location will get in touch with you,” Altersitz said. “It’s really great, because you can volunteer here at Belvoir; at Fort Meade; at both airports; or help with a special project; so you have a lot of different opportunities to help give back to the community.”
To reach out, go to volunteers.uso.org for more information.