After serving in the Vietnam War, Gregory Dutcher never imagined that he would spend a day without a meal and on the brink of homelessness.
But it happened.
“I was close to having to sleep in the woods,” said Dutcher, 56, of Riverhead.
Hardship started for the Army veteran when he had quadruple bypass heart surgery in 1998. He had a stent put in is heart in 1999, suffered a stroke in 2003 and got two more stents in 2005. Unable to work, Dutcher lost his job as a custodian at Eastport South Manor School.
But he got help from the Suffolk County United Veterans.
And now Dutcher is giving back to the organization that helped him during his tough time. He volunteers every Friday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Suffolk County United Veterans food pantry in Riverhead (1380 Roanoke Ave.), which opened in November 2010.
“I think it’s important to help because there are a lot of veterans who are homeless and hungry,” he said.
There is also a Suffolk County United Veterans food pantry in Yaphank (32 Mill Rd.) which is open 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Monday through Friday. The organization’s assistant director Joanne Massimo said they opened the Riverhead location to address people on the East End.
“Veterans can come once a month and each person gets four to five bags of donated food,” Massimo said. “We serve up to 50 veterans a month.”
The veterans receive canned foods, juices, crackers, cereals, oatmeal and toiletries.
“I believe in giving back to people and we help a lot of veterans and families here,” said Mokesha Wyche, food pantry volunteer from Bridgehampton.
The SCUV offers a shelter in Yaphnka for the veterans, provides job and education training and is offering coats donated by the Long Island Coalition for the Homeless.
“We have about 100 coats which include adult and children sizes,” Massimo said. “We help veterans in any way we can. If they can’t pay their bills, we will refer them to the proper sources. Veterans need a support system when they come home. We are here to assist them.”
If interested in making a donation or for more information, call Suffolk County United Veterans at 631-924-8088 or visit the organization's website www.scuv.org.