SEBRING - U.S. Navy veteran William M. Baker helps the elderly in the Sebring area, but he was the one receiving a bit of help Monday from the Veterans Services Council's food pantry.
Baker received a frozen turkey and a Thanksgiving food basket at the county's Veterans Services Office.
The turkeys, frozen pies, vegetables and packaged side dishes were donated by area veterans organizations and are available for pickup weekdays 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. at The Veterans Services Office, located behind the Highlands County Health Department on George Boulevard. The office will be closed Thursday and Friday for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Veterans Services administrative secretary Sarah Carter said the food pantry serves needy veterans who have a hard time making ends meet month-to-month.
"The Thanksgiving [food pantry] was for those veterans who we see on a regular basis," she said. "We called them in to have a little something extra since it is the holidays."
Veterans Services Assistant Veterans Services Officer Carol West noted that meal baskets were filled with Thanksgiving meal items, such as stuffing, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, vegetables and frozen pies and desserts.
After providing turkeys and food baskets to 19 veterans on Friday, the food pantry continues to serve walk-ins who qualify.
West said a veteran gave her and Carter a hug on Friday, thanking them because he didn't have any food.
"It's a good feeling at the end of the day when you go home and you feel like you have helped somebody," she said. "That makes my job worth it."
There are many homeless veterans and some, who are not homeless but who have "fallen on their luck," Carter said.
Baker is not homeless, but has faced some challenges.
As West and Carter helped him load the food into his truck, Baker said he attends a weekly post-traumatic stress disorder class at The Veterans Services Office.
"They have helped me tremendously," he said.
Baker said no one will hire him because he has muscular dystrophy and asbestosis.
He used to work at the Avon Park Air Force Range recovering unexploded bombs, but he got laid off so he developed his own job helping the elderly, Baker said.
"I go around and help people. I change light bulbs and do cooking. I do pressure cleaning and painting," he said.
Baker's wife of 35 years, Christine, is a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran.
Though he was in the Navy during the period of the Vietnam War, Baker served nearly his entire military service from 1970 to 1974 in Africa as a hull technician, where he performed firefighter and miscellaneous duties.
West noted that even if they don't give out all the food Tuesday and Wednesday, "there is Christmas" so the remaining turkeys and food baskets will be available for pickup.
For more information about the food pantry for veterans contact the Veterans Services Office at 863-402-6623.