While it may be more closely associated with its efforts to help feed those in need, the Loaves and Fishes Community Pantry in Naperville has added a new program to a growing list of services.
As part of its Pathway to Empowerment initiative, the nonprofit organization already offers computer classes, job-search training, tools to help clients file tax returns and other support.
Now, Loaves and Fishes is partnering with the state's Department of Veterans Affairs for a program designed to ensure area vets receive the federal and state benefits available to them.
Veterans can meet one-on-one with a service officer in a private office at the pantry on July 27 or Aug. 24. To schedule an appointment, call the pantry at (630) 355-3663 or stop by the reception desk at 1871 High Grove Lane, Naperville.
Organizers say the program is in a test phase.
DuPage County is home to one of the largest populations of veterans in the state, says Jeff Willis, the northern division supervisor for the state's Department of Veterans Affairs.
Teaming up with Loaves and Fishes marks the first time his division -- with 23 offices -- has "set up shop" in a pantry, said Willis, who met with veterans at the Naperville facility June 29.
Veterans should bring their discharge papers, or the service officer can obtain the paperwork, too, Willis said.
Computers with Internet access at the pantry enable veterans to sign up for benefits available to them on the spot.
"Even the smallest bit of inkling of curiosity … it never hurts to sit down," Willis said. "We do a complete review process."
Willis said the field officers are all combat-era veterans.
"We are veterans helping veterans," he said.
The idea for the program began when Loaves and Fishes recognized a growing number of veterans and veterans' families in its clientele in the past several years, says Jane Macdonald, senior program director.
The pantry currently is pinpointing figures on the number of veterans using its services.
To debut the veterans program, Loaves and Fishes built its Day Without Hunger event around the theme of "Freedom from Hunger." It's an annual event that highlights hunger in the community, as well as the pantry's role in serving DuPage County.
"Having enough food is a right for every individual, and that's something that our veterans have fought for," Macdonald said. "We felt like it just went together in a very important way."