John Lumpkins emerged from the Freeport storefront of food bank Long Island Cares Tuesday, bags of groceries in each hand.

The 58-year-old Hempstead veteran said he was used to going to food pantries for help -- but this time it was different.

Long Island Cares began the first of its weekly "Military Appreciation Tuesdays" Tuesday -- special hours aimed at getting veterans and their families food while connecting them with veterans services.

Long Island Cares executive director Paule Pachter said his group began the program after encountering dozens seeking help from the nonprofit's mobile food pantries at veterans events.

"The more we talked to veterans, the more we realized that they have multiple needs," Pachter said.

The special hours -- from noon to 4 p.m. every Tuesday at both the Nassau Service Center in Freeport and the First Stop Food Pantry at Long Island Cares' warehouse in Hauppauge -- will also bring in county veterans services representatives. Pachter estimated the program would attract 250 to 300 veterans and their families per year.

Suffolk County has just under 120,000 veterans -- the most of any county in the state, said Thomas Ronayne, director of the Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency. Nassau has 90,000 to 100,000, said Michael Kilbride, director of that county's veterans service agency.

"I think that the fact that a veteran who might otherwise hesitate accepting this type of service or availing himself to it, knowing from 12 to 4 on Tuesdays the only other people he'll likely encounter in the food pantry are going to be other veterans softens it a little," Ronayne said.

"It takes a lot for a veteran to ask for help," Kilbride said. "They don't want to ask for help, but they're the first to give help."

Lumpkins, who served in the Army from 1971 to 1972, when he was injured after being thrown into a trench, said he had been going to different food pantries since to make ends meet.

"It was a little embarrassing," Lumpkins said. "But I know I have to feed my family, so I have to get over that."

But he liked the idea of the special veterans hours so much that he wore a poster advertising the new program in Hempstead the day before, hoping to spread the word to other vets.

"It's good that they're doing this for the veterans," he said. "I will be back."

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