Featured Blog Photo Credit: Michael Butcher for Photography by Trish Alegre-Smith
Earlier this month, the Second Service Foundation partnered with the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year® (MSOY) program, and was honored to be asked to bring the Military Entrepreneur Challenge to the esteemed military spouses during their exclusive MSOY week in Washington, D.C. Fort Leavenworth’s Stronghold Food Pantry Founder and CEO Monica Bassett was announced as the winner of the pitch competition among an audience of senior military leaders and distinguished guests.
During the Covid pandemic, Monica, an Army spouse, saw a need that took off her blinders to a silent crisis within the military today: food insecurity. After reading multiple requests online from Fort Riley families asking for pantry staples and realizing that one family began checking their neighbors’ trash cans for salvageable food, she launched an initiative out of her garage to help anyone in need. With the Caring Basket initiative, Monica filled laundry baskets with nonperishables, cleaning supplies, and necessities like toilet paper. Thoughtful to every detail, the laundry basket was not only the conduit for supplies, but also an item the families could use daily. If the family had young children or babies, she made sure they were loaded with wipes and diapers as well.
What began as a small initiative out of her garage at Fort Riley has scaled to a full food pantry that is now expanding across military branches and the nation. Stronghold Ambassadors are vetted military spouses of any branch who will carry out Stronghold’s mission at their own military installations. The first Ambassador to join the Stronghold team’s expansion is comedian and national public speaker Ashley Gutermuth, who uses her platform to highlight issues within the military couched in humor. The Air Force spouse promotes Stronghold’s mission and uses Stronghold’s resources for military families not only at her current base in Texas, but also across the nation as she tours. The Ambassador program is selective, carefully designed to not overburden Stronghold’s resources.
“I am just truly grateful for the opportunity to be a military spouse and to stand alongside phenomenal military spouses with great organizations,” Monica says. “I think that what military spouses can do for the military community together is very powerful. We at Stronghold are excited for the possibilities and the opportunities that come from winning the Second Service Foundation Military Entrepreneur Challenge pitch competition, and we cannot wait to collaborate and further highlight awareness to the vital resources that we provide military families.”
“The Military Entrepreneur Challenge was built to help those with incredible ideas access the support they need in order to make them grow and change the world,” says Lauren Hope, Executive Director of the Second Service Foundation. “Monica is a perfect example of what we hope to do and who we hope to support in this Foundation. Monica is solving a pain point —a very serious pain point— of military life. Who better to throw our support behind than someone who is trying to solve food insecurity for military families?”
With the grant from the Second Service Foundation, Monica has big plans for the summer. “We will utilize the funds received to alleviate the burden of 80 military families over the summer, because food insecurity does not take summer break,” she says. “We will utilize the legal assistance to help grow our Ambassador program by vetting more military installations and legally registering in more states. The military says ‘we leave no man behind’ but we leave no family behind.”
Photo Credit: Photography by Trish Alegre-Smith