After serving her country, then falling on hard times, a mother and Navy veteran founded a food pantry for veterans that’s grown into a burgeoning nonprofit organization. She hopes her venture will someday expand nationwide.
A veteran of the U.S. Navy Reserves, 50-year-old Amber Hudson of Columbus knows all too well the struggles military veterans, their families and widows and widowers can face. Following a divorce and trying to raise three young boys, she found herself struggling to put food on the table. She turned to a local soup kitchen for help. But not a handout. She and her sons helped with the preparation and cleanup every Wednesday.
“The reason we did that was because I needed to feed them and I depended on that soup kitchen to be there,” Hudson said.
By 2015, Hudson was starting to get back on her feet and working at the Columbus Veterans Administration. There, she heard many other stories about veterans in need.
She decided to found the Military and Service Heroes (M.A.S.H) Pantry and Resource Center, a nonprofit that provides food, toiletries, clothing and hygiene products, as well as emotional and physical support and resources to military personnel and veterans throughout the Columbus metropolitan area.
“I didn’t have any money to even send the nonprofit application in,” Hudson said. “So I pawned my Jeep Wrangler and jewelry, and here we are. And I’d do it again and again. We’re making a difference a meal at a time, a handshake at a time, just sitting down sharing a cup of coffee with a veteran, listening to what they need.”
Since establishing the M.A.S.H. Pantry and Resource Center in May 2015, the organization has expanded and continues to grow.
Its main center is at 2731 Columbus St. in Grove City. There also are locations at the U.S. Air National Guard section of Rickenbacker Military Base on the South Side of Columbus and at the Defense Supply Center Columbus in Whitehall, the latter of which opened July 19.
M.A.S.H. rents box trucks each month to take mobile produce markets throughout Franklin County and to American Legion posts and veterans service organizations in Pickaway, Delaware and Union counties.
“Amber has a lot of compassion because she’s lived it,” said Elaine Fowler, M.A.S.H. vice president. “She gives veterans value with no strings attached.”
Fowler said Hudson “gives so much of herself that it makes a difference in people’s lives.”
“You see the smiles on their faces,” Fowler said. “A lot of them are lonely people, and bringing them together, that’s what Amber does. There’s nothing demeaning about it. It’s family. Amber creates family.”
Through ongoing trial and error, M.A.S.H. and its volunteers continue to build momentum. “We need more sponsors, but it’s happening,” Fowler said. “People are starting to come to us.”
By the end of summer, another center is expected to open in Delaware to serve veterans and their families from Delaware County and surrounding areas. Hudson said she hopes eventually to expand throughout Ohio and even nationally.
“We serve veterans, not based on income,” she said. “We’re just honored to serve every veteran that comes through the door. We don’t even talk about income.
“I want the veterans to be able to depend on us. We’re not giving a handout. We’re giving a hand up. We’re here to help them.”