There were no massive parades held on Long Island this year. There was an obvious shift in the air come Memorial Day 2020.
The streets were not packed with veterans, families, bands, children and first responders. Instead, a handful of car parades were held to honor America’s fallen heroes, those who paid the ultimate price for the sake of freedom. But even with a few memorials across Long Island, there was a deeper sense of meaning for this year’s Memorial Day.
That’s largely due to the unprecedented impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which has left thousands of Nassau County residents unemployed. And that’s where one organization is stepping in.
New Ground, located at 70 Acorn Ln. in Levittown, provides support for veterans upon their return to America, specifically for those who are homeless or on the verge of it. For the last 30 years, the nonprofit does extraordinary work by assisting our nation’s bravest heroes and helping them get back on their feet.
“We have been doing a lot more mental health check-ins, specifically for our veterans who feel isolated,” Shannon Boyle, executive director of New Ground Inc., said. “Before this, they might have been going to the VA [Veterans Affairs Medical Center] in Northport a couple of times a week, attending groups and seeing a group of veterans to have a cup of coffee. Now, they’re very isolated and the connection is lost. We’re trying to fill the gap.”
The staff of six at New Ground has been on the move throughout the pandemic. From providing digital resources on www.newground.org to constantly answering calls and emails from veterans and their families, the social workers have gone above and beyond their call of duty.
Memorial Day is one of the select times that veterans at the forefront of society, and New Ground wants people to know now more than ever is the time to help our veterans. Now is not the time to lose sight of the impact veterans have on our society.
One of the most urgent needs that New Ground currently faces lies in their food pantry, meant for veterans and their families who are facing food insecurity. Throughout the pandemic, New Ground is working with Island Harvest to meet the needs of this community during a time of great need.
“The volunteers are doing food drives,” Boyle said. “Instead of people coming in and selecting their items, helping themselves to what they like or prefer, they’re now communicating their needs to the social workers. The social workers are in the office one at a time. They pack up the boxes with food and other essential household items like hygiene supplies. Then, they deliver it.
“One of our social workers who did a bunch of deliveries last week was particularly excited because we got a large donation from a supporter who brought fresh items. She was out delivering food throughout the day to veterans, and the hardest part was they all just wanted to hug her.”
This is a particularly rough time for homeless veterans.
A year ago, Nassau County Legislator Joshua Lafazan (D—Woodbury) introduced a pair of bills in the legislature to tackle veteran homelessness. The Dignity for Our Heroes bills, as he labeled it, will build housing for the veterans who are struggling and will ultimately put an end to housing discrimination in regards to landlords who often give them issues.
“You have 5,000 veterans in Nassau County who are homeless, about to be homeless or are housing insecure,” Lafazan said. “I passed the Dignity for Our Heroes package to build housing for these veterans in Nassau County. There’s a committee exploring potential site locations to build the structure. I want to make sure the structure gets built, that it gets built well and every veteran who is homeless in Nassau County has a roof over their head.”
Throughout the pandemic, New Ground has been receiving plenty of calls, not just about housing issues, but regarding food insecurity as well.
“Right now, our food pantry in the office is closed to the public,” Boyle said. “We’re one of the nonprofits that receive support from Island Harvest, so we’re in touch with them on a regular basis to provide an up-to-date list of food pantries. If we’re getting veterans calling directly and looking for support, we take steps to connect them with any other resources that might be needed.”
With Island Harvest also seeing a surge in requests for its food pantry service, New Ground’s Nassau County supporters have stepped up in more ways than one.
“We would not exist if it was not for our supporters, quite frankly,” Boyle said. “We receive very little government funding. The rest is all fundraising. They have blown us away with the amount of support, outreach and donations that we’ve been receiving. We know this is an extremely rough economic time for everybody, but we have people donating at all different levels.”
New Ground is helping veterans who are homeless by putting them in contact with the Northport VA. The Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program enables the veterans who are having housing issues to decrease the number of homeless veterans on Long Island.
And New Ground, which can work with 50 veterans and an additional 25 families at any given time, is ready to do whatever it takes to help those who need it in a number of ways.
Contact New Ground at www.newground.org or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you are in need during this time, know someone who needs assistance or if you want to volunteer.