I am Monica Bassett, the 2022 AFI Army Spouse of the Year, and I am the Founder and CEO for Stronghold Food Pantry. Stronghold Food Pantry’s main hub is at Fort Leavenworth, KS, and I’m excited to share that we are launching nationwide with an ambassador program. We have two ambassadors to take Stronghold to more military families faced with the burden of food insecurity.
A couple of years ago, I identified a need in my military community: food insecurity aid. A few months after I started filling that gap out of my garage, the Secretary of Defense announced that 24% of military families were facing food insecurity. I realized that food insecurity wasn’t just present at my installation in my military community, but it was at every installation around the world and across every service branch. That really got me volunteering at local pantries, learning the ins and outs, volunteering on the installation, and listening to what our service members and their families really need. That is how Stronghold began, and now we are a nonprofit helping as many military families as we can across the nation.
Stronghold was created with intention to serve military families with food, necessities, support, but also with dignity, with respect, and, above all else, protecting their anonymity. It is very important to me because I have been the recipient of assistance from a food pantry. I have lived with that stigma and that shame. I saw firsthand the ripple effects that [shame] caused my parents, being that they could not provide adequate food for their family. So that anonymity is always paramount at Stronghold.
The way that I’ve implemented protected anonymity is to have everyone sign up for a personal time slot. It’s something I will never take away to get more people in the door because that time allows them to connect. It allows them to feel supported, to feel seen, and to feel connected to their community. I know babies’ names, I know due dates, they know my name, and it has become a family. And they’re not ashamed anymore, and they are open and free to tell their neighbor, “you can go see them; it’s safe.” That is what we want Stronghold to be.
With the Second Service Foundation grant, the finance portion will go to help at least 80 military families over the summer put healthy, nutritious food on the table, especially those with school-aged kids — there are three out of four Title I schools in just our military school district and there is no free food or free reduced lunch during the summer.
We’re also going to take a portion of that and keep it for our operational fund so that we can potentially fund hiring military spouses. Stronghold is very fortunate that we have a group of very seasoned, professional, passionate, educated spouses that are on board to help us spread the word and do our grassroots, boots-on-the-ground work to spread it nationally. But it’s important that we also stand behind who we are as military spouses, and help employ them for the amazing work that they do.
As for legal and social marketing, well, it’s endless. We are hoping that we can trademark Stronghold and pay for us to be in more installations. We have to do it properly so that Stronghold is not in and out — we want to stay wherever Stronghold grows. We want to build a community there, and to do that we have to legally register at every state that we are starting a new ambassadorship, so the legal grant can help us do that.
Thank you to Second Service for the opportunity to enter such a competition, especially as a new nonprofit and military spouse. I’m really thrilled to get different coaching advice and hone in on my skills to become a better leader and a better founder and CEO for Stronghold.