COL Joseph Messina, Fort Belvoir Garrison Commander, center, and Command Sgt. Maj. Garth Newell are briefed by Army Community Services director Tammye Braddy, left, about the newly opened ACS Food Pantry, offering walk-in service for families to avoid food insecurity. The pantry was opened while celebrating ACS' 58th birthday. (Photo by Jon Lee, Fort Belvoir Public Affairs)

Soldier readiness relies on the numerous family-based services provided for decades by Army Community Services (ACS). From financial readiness classes, employment readiness, and family advocacy to vocational rehab, Tammye Braddy, Fort Belvoir’s ACS chief said her social services help service members learn key skills of budgeting, planning, parenting and much more.

“Financial readiness is the bull’s eye, since ACS programs feed into financial aid, spouse employment and providing skills for future stability with budgeting and financial counseling,” Braddy said. “Even victim advocacy can always show stress around finances, which escalates and adds further stress to a family. Each one of our programs is going to feed into financial readiness.

For families who haven’t learned budgeting skills, Braddye said they can offer food vouchers to help families make it through a particularly rough month, as food insecurity effects both the family and the ability of the service member to complete their mission.

On Friday, at the celebration of ACS’ 58th birthday, Garrison Commander COL Joseph Messina helped Braddy and her team open the first-ever Army food pantry.

“It’s kind of a big deal,” Braddy explained, “This will go a long way toward reducing food insecurity, which fits with the ACS mission of prevention and education. This is an opportunity for us to ensure our Soldiers and families remain food secure.”

Citing a recent survey of Exceptional Family Member Program participants across the armed forces this year, Braddye said the survey revealed that 35 percent of respondents stated they have faced food insecurity in the past year.

“We know it’s here, based on the amount of people that come in needing food vouchers, so we want to do our part to provide education on how to stay food secure, and we are so thrilled that this operation is being stood up through donations of non-perishable foods,” she said. “Hopefully, once a week we will be able to provide perishables, such as milk and cheese, along with the support of Fort Belvoir’s Defense Commissary Agency, and the Fort Belvoir Commissary."
Tammye Braddy, director of Army Community Services

COL Joseph Messina, Garrison commander, noted at the grand opening that there is a persistent need to assist families in the region.

“Food insecurity is a reality for many in the National Capital Region, which is ranked the 4th most expensive place to live among large U.S. Metro areas, and 50 percent higher than the national average,” COL Messina said. “To boost resilience, this new pantry is available daily on a walk-in basis for those families in need, while also educating those families on how to remain food secure.”

The service is available for walk-in assistance at the ACS building Monday through Friday, as opposed the traditional Food Bank distributions, which have been monthly.

“I wanted our Food Pantry to be based on the concept where families can come to us when they’re in need and choose their own food, so we are not giving them things they may not want. This way, they’re able to come in, shop and get what they need,” Braddy said, adding that there is a small questionnaire so staff members can track the pantry’s usage and demands each week. “That gives us an assessment of what we’re dealing with on the installation; just a couple questions for record keeping and to be able to report to the commander on the number of families utilizing this new service.  

The Food Pantry is open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to active duty and retired service members and their families at 5965 6th Street, Bldg. 1263.

Paul Lara, Fort Belvoir Public Affairs