Too proud to ask for the money, Amber Hudson pawned her Jeep, every piece of jewelry she owned and almost sold her hair to pull together the $750 she needed to apply for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit status to open M.A.S.H. (Military and Service Heroes) Pantry and Resource Center.
“No Veteran, military family, or survivor will go without … at least not on our watch,” states the homepage of the M.A.S.H. website.
Hudson said when a veteran walks through the doors of the pantry, it doesn’t matter where they are from, what branch of the military they served with, or where they served. She said there is no red tape and no questions.
“We are honored just to have them walk through the door,” she said. “We serve all veterans. We do not go by their income. It’s about honoring them for their service.”
Hudson said the only requirement is when a veteran arrives for the first time, he or she must bring in their DD214, a notice of discharge from active duty, or an NGB22, notice of discharge from the National Guard, as proof of military service.
In 2015, Hudson opened her first M.A.S.H. Pantry and Resource Center in Columbus but later moved it to Grove City. Since that time, she has opened one at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base, at the Defense Supply Center Columbus – Defense Logistics Agency, and as of Feb. 9, in Delaware at 222 E. William St.
“About 25 veterans have come through the door so far,” Hudson said about the Delaware location. “The word is just not out yet.”
Being more than a food pantry, the nonprofit offers military families and survivors clothing, personal hygiene items, and diapers for children; resources for post-traumatic shock disorder (PTSD) with peer support meetings; and if veterans can’t get to a M.A.S.H. location, a mobile outreach program goes to them and the community.
“Later, I’m taking a microwave to the home of a veteran here in Delaware,” Hudson said during her interview with The Gazette..
Hudson added her organization also works with other area charitable agencies that help veterans pay bills to keep their power and water on.
A veteran herself, Hudson spent two-and-a-half years serving at Rickenbacker National Air Guard Base in the Navy Reserve about 30 years ago.
‘That’s why my heart is there,” she said.
Hudson also has a unique understanding of living through hardships. She said she is a survivor of domestic violence, endured working as a nanny in a flea infested home to have a roof over her head, and as a single mother, she faced the difficulties of putting food on the table for her growing children.
“My children had a wonderful father, however, it was not his responsibility to support me after the break,” she said. “I found myself at the doors of a soup kitchen with three little boys. For a couple of years every Wednesday, we prepared and served the food, shared a meal with the homeless, and then cleaned up.”
Hudson said years later, she mentioned to her children that she depended on that food and the leftovers.
“I was too proud to ask for assistance, so we worked for the food, and in turn — I did my job — I fed my boys,” she said.
Hudson said she encourages parents to come volunteer and bring their children, because working with veterans is an experience that can’t be had by reading a textbook.
“I took my children with me to volunteer,” she said.
Hudson’s organization runs on donations and a group of volunteers who make veterans feel at home.
Tonya Freeman, Delaware M.A.S.H. coordinator, said she always has a trunk full of donations from area restaurants and volunteer groups who take up collections to donate to the pantry.
“I always have donations out the ying-yang,” she said. “There are always boxes in the back of the car.”
Freeman said that when veterans come in for the first time, they are handed a packet and an identity card. She said they sit down at one of the tables where they are given juice or coffee and snack while they fill out their paperwork.
“While the veteran sits at the table talking with other veterans, we shop for them,” she said.
Freeman is also known for telling what she calls “old dad jokes.”
“They always leave laughing,” she said.
Hudson said the group is very engaging with the veterans. She said they will sit and listen to their many stories or whatever the veteran wants to talk about.
“The veterans get hugs,” she said.
Freeman said if the same story is told more than 30 times, it’s time to give the veteran “decaffeinated coffee.”
On Friday night, Freeman said volunteers will pick up the leftovers from the Panera Bread on U.S. Route 23 and bring them back to the M.A.S.H. pantry for Saturday morning.
“We have the most delicious pastries on Saturday morning,” she said. “We have a lot of variety.”
Freeman said they freeze as much of the items donated to use later, but most of it is given away to other pantries and nonprofits like the Common Ground Free Store on East Central Street. She said sometimes, they will trade the surplus for fresh fruit and vegetables with the other charitable organizations.
Freeman said her son, Zack, was killed in Tiktre, Iraq, 10 years ago while serving in the U.S. Army.
“This is my therapy,” she said. “Everybody gets a little help here in different ways.”
Hudson said a lot of credit goes to Ric Ray, Delaware M.A.S.H assistant pantry coordinator and Delaware County Veterans Service Commission vice president, for leading the way to establish a M.A.S.H. Pantry and Resource Center in Delaware.
The Delaware location is open, weather permitting, Tuesday 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Thursday 6 to 8 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.