By Alexander Mirabella
Chairman, Union County Board of County Commissioners
Every November since 1996, Veterans and Military Families Month has been recognized as a time to honor those who have dedicated their lives in the service of our country, including their family members, care givers and survivors.
This year, I would like to draw attention to those serving in the National Guard, who have worked unstintingly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In those first, anxious days of the outbreak, they made it possible for Union County to take action and mobilize swiftly, and they have played key roles in our efforts ever since.
Thanks to the assistance of the National Guard, Union County opened the first county based drive-through mass testing site in New Jersey on March 23, 2020, just days after Governor Murphy declared a public health emergency and lockdown. Located at the Kean University campus in Union Township, the Union County COVID-19 Test Center quickly provided thousands of Union County residents and first responders with vital information about their exposure to the deadly virus.
Members of the National Guard continued to work alongside our staff as we expanded our programs to include additional clinics, including COVID-19 vaccination sites. So far, we have provided more than 172,000 free tests to Union County residents and first responders, and more than 122,000 vaccines including third shots and booster doses.
I would also like to call attention to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on many households, here in Union County and beyond, including veterans and active duty military and their families.
Food insecurity continues to affect many families during the pandemic, and military families are all too often among those struggling with this issue.
In his Veterans and Military Families Month 2021 proclamation, President Biden noted that food insecurity among the military impacts the whole community. “If service members are worried that their spouse is struggling to keep food on the table or that their child is having a hard time at school, it is harder to focus on their mission,” he wrote. “That is why supporting military families is a national security imperative.”
Everyone can help make a difference by reaching out and providing assistance to local veterans organizations, community food banks, and other organizations that provide aid to those in need.
Union County’s COVID-19 response efforts have included a massive emergency food distribution program for individuals and families experiencing financial distress due to the pandemic. The series began in May 2020, and we just held our 69th and 70th events last weekend. So far we have distributed almost 12 million pounds of fresh produce, nonperishable foods and other items, totaling more than 10 million meals.
The emergency food events are made possible by volunteers, who have turned out by the hundreds to load as many as 4,000 heavy boxes of produce and shelf items into cars during a single event.
Union County also supports programs that raise the profile of veterans in our community, including recreational programs, designated parking spots at County facilities, networking mixers and other events that connect veterans with new opportunities for entrepreneurship and employment.
Our Office of Veteran Services stands ready to assist with compensation claims and survivor benefits, as well as guidance on resources and assistance available to veterans and military families
As we approach the holiday season, let’s all remember to appreciate the military veterans and military families in our community and throughout our nation, and extend a helping hand to all those in need.
To contact the Union County Office of Veteran Services, call the Office Coordinator, Janna Williams, at 908-527-4918, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call Veterans Service Officer Kenneth Glick at 908-527-4719. More information is available at ucnj.org/uc-hero.
For more details about the National Guard deployment at the Union County COVID-19 Test Center, visit https://www.108thwing.ang.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2191312/national-guardsman-promoted-at-covid-19-testing-site/.
For information and updates on all Union County services during the COVID-19 outbreak, including free vaccination, free testing, emergency food distribution and other support services, visit ucnj.org/covid19. General information about COVID-19 is available through the New Jersey Department of Health at nj.gov/health.
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