Mary’s Cupboard, an archdiocesan food pantry, and the Disabled American Veterans are distributing backpacks with clothing and food essentials to veterans and others experiencing homelessness. (Aniket Bhattacharya / Unsplash)

An archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS) food pantry is teaming up with local advocates to help area veterans and those experiencing homelessness.

Mary’s Cupboard, an emergency food assistance site located at CSS’s Bucks County Family Service Center in Levittown, has partnered with the Bensalem chapter of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) to fill donated book bags with clothing and food essentials.

The backpacks will be distributed throughout the Bucks County and Philadelphia areas to men and women in need.

Last year, the effort collected some 700 backpacks, said Ann Hyjurick, co-coordinator of Mary’s Cupboard.

Bensalem DAV commander Francis Drummond, a Vietnam veteran, had been distributing filled backpacks for years, Hyjurick said.

When her son, a close friend of Drummond, brought the initiative to her attention, and she eagerly embraced the chance to collaborate.

“Veterans have so much pride, and they don’t like to take anything from people,” she said. “We need to help.”

Prior to COVID-19, veterans and their families enjoyed consistently higher living standards over the past four decades, compared to non-veterans, according to a Pew Research study.

However, the pandemic has placed large numbers of veterans at a greater risk of unemployment, with approximately 14% working in the five industries most likely to sustain layoffs.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates that some 40,000 veterans are homeless on any given night.

Hyjurick said she has been delighted by the generosity of donors so far.

“My car was so loaded with backpacks the other day that I couldn’t see out the back window,” she said.

In addition to meeting immediate needs, outreaches such as the backpack giveaway work to connect vulnerable individuals with a broad array of resources.

Through its alignment with CSS, Mary’s Cupboard – which has served some 86,000 individuals since 1976 – enables pantry clients to access job search assistance, nutritional education, pregnancy and parenting support, counseling and additional services.

Those interested in donating new and gently used backpacks to Mary’s Cupboard, located at 100 Levittown Parkway in Levittown, can do so on Sept. 23 and 25 between 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. No appointment is necessary, but face masks and social distancing are required.