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Community and convenience: Food pantry teams with delivery app to serve troops and veterans

Frank Cassella (left), a volunteer with the American Red Cross, and Cpt. Diana Bojorquez (middle), a company commander with the 104th Engineer Company, 36th Engineer Brigade from Fort Hood, Texas stack boxes of Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) in La Marque, Texas in preparation to deliver life sustaining supplies Sep. 5. (Spc. Hubert D. Delany III / 22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment/U.S. Army)
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Operation Phantom Support has always known that some people can’t get to its food pantry. Now a partnership with the delivery app JoyRun is helping to fill that gap.

Opened in 2014 and named for the “Phantom Warriors” of III Corps, Fort Hood’s highest headquarters, Phantom Support’s food pantry is open twice a week to active-duty military, honorably discharged veterans and first responders. Until the partnership launched Oct. 25, people had to show up at the pantry in downtown Killeen, Texas, and wait in line to receive food, said retired Sgt. 1st Class John Valentine III, CEO and founder of the nonprofit.

“Now you don’t have to have a car,” Valentine said. “You can just open an app and ask.”

Each pantry day, about 27 people do just that. That’s about 90 family members affiliated with the military getting much needed food, Valentine said. About 1,000 people a week visit Phantom Support and take home $30 to $40 worth of food.

Some of those unable to make it to pantry in person are moms with newborns or young children, families with only one vehicle and homebound or disabled veterans.

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JoyRun, an errand-running smartphone app, is different from its competitors because it aims to build community, said Manish Rathi, JoyRun founder and CEO.

“More and more, technology is taking you away from connecting with people rather than connecting with people,” he said. “It fundamentally starts with the values and the mindset of the company. We stand for community more than we stand for convenience. Convenience comes naturally, but it is not about press a button and somebody shows up.”

Within the free-to-download app, users can post that they need something from a specific place or that they are heading somewhere and offer to pick up for anyone else. Other users can then offer to run for them, or join in to get something delivered. Runners can choose to deliver for free or charge up to $5 for the errand — significantly lower than what other delivery apps charge. Those receiving can leave a tip in the app.

The service builds off the idea of asking a neighbor for a cup of sugar, Rathi said. Grouping deliveries from one location to a single runner also lowers the delivery cost and allows the runners to earn more tips on a single errand.

Lilia Van Dyke joined JoyRun in November and is now a hired runner for the company. She can make her own schedule, and even brings her kids along when needed. While she’s mostly delivered meals from restaurants, Van Dyke has also delivered black leather gloves to a soldier in advance of a cold morning’s physical training; paper plates to soldiers at the Fort Hood gate so they could enjoy a donated turkey dinner on Thanksgiving; and medicine and diapers to moms at home with sick kids.

The runs to the food pantry, though, are filling a greater need, she said.

“It feels rewarding to be able to get food to their door,” said Van Dyke, the widow of a veteran.

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She said she remembers the days of living on a young servicemember’s salary and struggling to find community at a new post.

“It’s wonderful to be available to help,” Van Dyke said.

Almost 1.4 million low-income veterans use the government food assistance program SNAP, formerly called food stamps, to feed their families, according to a 2018 article from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. A Feeding America study from 2013 shows that 20 percent of households using their assistance include a veteran. Information on active-duty servicemembers is harder to quantify, according to a Government Accountability Office study.

With a high concentration of veterans and active-duty military in central Texas, Valentine said it just makes sense to help support the community through a food bank.

“Mostly there are just a lot of blended families and young soldiers with families and his/her pay can’t support the amount of mouths to feed based on prices rising at the commissary and food stores,” he said. “Soldiers are paid enough to take care of themselves, not a family, so things are challenging for soldiers trying to provide for three or more.”

To make it simple for the runners, Phantom Support set up a drive-through lane in the alley so JoyRun runners can easily get their orders loaded and delivered across town. Many runners pick up multiple orders and sometimes their own food as well.

“It’s also easier for the volunteers. There’s less people coming through, so it makes their job easier during the day,” Valentine said.

The first time someone uses JoyRun to get a food pantry delivery, they can use a coupon code to get a free delivery. JoyRun also donates $5 to Phantom Support with the code, said Julia Erb, JoyRun’s runner community manager for Killeen and a military spouse.

“We’re helping the community as well as helping here,” she said.

JoyRun is available in Killeen, outside Fort Hood, and to the military communities at Joint Base San Antonio in Texas and Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi. Most recently, JoyRun has launched at Sheppard and Goodfellow Air Force bases in Texas, at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. Rathi said 26 more base communities are in line for access to the app.

Within these communities, about 10,000 servicemembers and 1,000 military spouses are using the app.

JoyRun began on college campuses — it’s available on 30 of them — and moved to military communities after people began asking for it, Rathi said.

JoyRun, which is available on Android and Apple, chooses its cities based on requests. To request JoyRun, go to https://joyrun.typeform.com/to/iw1TNe?utm_source=stripes.

To learn more about Operation Phantom Support, go to www.phantomsupport.org.

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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