The feeling at the Stage AE parking lot on Saturday was one of gratitude as the Steelers partnered with Minority Veterans of America (MVA) for a 'Supply Drop,' helping those who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
MVA has been in existence for nearly a decade, but just moved into Pittsburgh in the last month to help serve the minority veteran community. Their first effort was to help minority veterans with supplies, which mainly focused on healthy food like fresh fruits and vegetables.
"Our organization works with minority and underrepresented veterans and always has," said Lindsay Church, MVA's executive director and co-founder. "Since the pandemic started many of the communities that we serve are being disproportionately impacted by food insecurity, job loss, homelessness, and many other things that we as a society haven't been able to do much to support. We instituted a COVID-19 project that we were giving out direct funds to the community. We were able to give out money directly to the community to make sure people could still eat. We also did some other programs around the holidays to make sure people were able to support their families around those times.
"In all of that, we started a program in Seattle we called the 'Supply Drop.' We did it in October and November and we had the opportunity to support food insecurity and provide toys, and pumpkins and some fun things to make sure the community has some joy in all of this."
The idea then grew to taking 'Supply Drop' on the road, with Pittsburgh being the first of six stops.
"It's partnerships with places like the Steelers that allow people to feel joy," said Church. "It shows the community even when you are struggling, there is joy, there is dignity, there is the opportunity to still be a part of something. The partnership with the Steelers is important to get the word out. We just launched here March 1. To have the support of the Steelers is really neat for a small organization that just started here, to have that support right from the get-go because they understand."
Pittsburgh's large veteran population made the city a perfect landing spot for MVA and they were able to serve 50 families on Saturday, reaching approximately 200 people. There were over 2 tons of food, with items such as produce, milk, eggs and fresh fruit the most commonly needed and requested items.
"For those who need it and have asked, we are also providing hygiene items," said Church. "But most people have asked for fresh fruits and vegetables and stuff that is not as easily accessible to them. We have been following the community needs and tailoring the boxes of what people need.
"There is other stuff in the box too. They are getting some Steelers swag, some Minority Vet swag, and there are other things in the box."
At the height of the pandemic MVA had 1,200 applicants for their COVID-19 project and there were some eye-opening statistics that came from those applications.
"I think the most startling thing to me was half of them were from African-America or black veterans and at least two-thirds were from veterans of color," said Church. "Black and African-American veterans only account for 10 to 20% of the entire community. To see 50% of who we are serving be of color, that is startling. National trends are showing veteran unemployment is on the rise for the fist time since 2008. In the first two months of the pandemic, it nearly quadrupled. Veterans of color, people of color have been the most likely to lose their jobs. And women of color have been the most likely of all to lose their jobs. We're seeing these national trends. But for us to see such a large uptick, and disproportionate response, was startling and why we are doing things."