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Barb Yates, wife of 31st Fighter Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Robert Yates, started a Food Pantry program at Aviano Air Base to help servicemembers and their families who have been hit by unexpected bills or other financial obligations.
Barb Yates, wife of 31st Fighter Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Robert Yates, started a Food Pantry program at Aviano Air Base to help servicemembers and their families who have been hit by unexpected bills or other financial obligations. (Geoff Ziezulewicz / S&S)

AVIANO, Italy — Barb Yates doesn’t know how many people at Aviano Air Base have used the Food Pantry since it began this month.

And frankly, she doesn’t want to know.

Anonymity is a big part of the Food Pantry program, which provides emergency groceries to servicemembers and their families in times of need, said Yates, the wife of 31st Fighter Wing Commander Brig. Gen. Robert Yates.

“I don’t know, and I don’t need to know,” she said last week while sorting new donations on shelves piled high with all sorts of nonperishable items. “The only way I will know is by the amount of boxes I’m making.”

When an unexpectedly large bill has to be paid, or other unforeseen expenses arise, a family might need help putting dinner on the table. Throw in a deployed family member and lack of a support system overseas, and the situation gets even harder.

That is when the Food Pantry comes into play.

Helping someone, and helping them retain their dignity, are key to the program, Yates said.

“I saw it firsthand with spouses trying to round up food for another spouse,” Yates said of her time at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., her husband’s last command before arriving at Aviano.

“I’d never want to walk into the work force and say, ‘We need food.’ That’s where your active-duty member works. You want to keep your private business to yourself.”

Servicemembers or spouses facing a temporary financial crunch can stop by the base chapel in Aviano’s Area One and receive a box of groceries, no questions asked, Yates said.

“They don’t have to say who they are or what their name is, other than the fact that they’re needing a box of food,” she said. “It allows us to keep our dignity.”

The boxes include peanut butter and jelly, and easily prepared dinners, such as spaghetti and pasta sauce. There’s no pumpkin pie mix or obscure canned goods coming out of the Food Pantry.

“They don’t get freaky food,” Yates said.

The pantry also offers baby supplies, including diapers and formula.

Yates, who started a similar program at Cannon, hosted a food drive at Aviano at the beginning of February to get the Food Pantry stocked. She said she has received help from volunteers and the collective heart of the Aviano community in the form of donated space, shelves and food.

“I’ve got a whole lot of right arms,” she said.

Chaplain (Col.) Jerry Houge, 31st Fighter Wing chaplain, said that as word spreads of the resource, he hopes more people will use it. So far, only one box has been given out.

But, he said, the need for such a program is usually not apparent until the program is set up.

“It takes awhile for people to get to know it,” Houge said. “Once people find out how great a service it is, I think the word will spread pretty fast.”

Houge also stressed the anonymity of the program.

“It’s a great opportunity to help our own, who for one reason or another have fallen short,” he said. “All they have to do is come and say, ‘We’d like a box.’”

To donate food, baby supplies or money to the Food Pantry program, stop by the Aviano Air Base Chapel.

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