Serving in the U.S. military is simultaneously one of the most important and most thankless careers imaginable. Along with the tremendous risks and responsibilities that come with serving in the armed forces, there are difficulties that can come with transitioning back into civilian life. Oftentimes people who have served this country honorably find themselves in need of help themselves.
A new endeavor in Montana is helping to make sure that veterans in Montana have meat in their refrigerator or freezer, at least. Veteran's Meat Locker was created last year by Chris Grudzinski and his wife. Last September, they began taking processed wild game and donating it to struggling veterans and homeless shelters in the state. They made an agreement with a Billings processor, 4th Ave. Meat Market, The processor was willing to donate a portion of the processing for any animal that was brought in and donated to Veteran's Meat Locker. By the end of last year’s hunting season, they had collected over 4,000 pounds of meat to be donated. All total, the organization has donated about 6,000 pounds of meat to more than 400 veterans.
The idea behind Veteran's Meat Locker is dear to Grudzinski’s heart.
“I myself am a combat wounded infantryman with a Purple Heart that wants to continue my service to my fellow brothers and sisters,” he says. “All veterans qualify; age, gender, branch of service, era, war or peacetime, and type of discharge do not matter. If they have some sort of proof of being a Veteran, than we will hand them over some meat.”
Each veteran in need is given anywhere from 12 to 20 pounds of meat. Grudzinski has also extended the offer to widows of veterans and Gold Star families.
As word has spread, offers to help support the projects have poured in. A local Popeye’s Chicken restaurant donated an outdoor walk-in freezer. Local ranchers have offered to donate beef cows, sheep and hogs. Any money that the Grudzinskis raise is donated back to 4th Ave. Meat Market to help defray processing costs, as the processor does not charge hunters and ranchers any fees for donated product.
“We have several hunters that went a step further and paid the cost to process it for us [anyway], which is a great gift along with the animal,” Grudzinski says.
Veteran's Meat Locker advertises its services through printed flyers and a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/vetmeatlocker). The Facebook page has allowed the organization to effectively communicate with its followers. Grudzinski recalls one instance where he delivered some meat to a 91-year-old World War II nurse. After talking with her for a while, she asked if he had any moose meat.
“I told her we had not had any of that donated, and she was disappointed, because she said that is something she had once before and would have loved to try it again,” he says. “So we left, and I posted her story and pictures on our Facebook page about the moose meat. It wasn't 45 minutes that we had a message that a veteran family had meat to donate to us for her.”
After a quick 6-hour round trip to pick up the moose meat, Grudzinski was back at the nurse’s door.
“She was actually cooking a deer roast as we showed up and was quite surprised. She asked, ‘Did you just shoot it?’ I told her where it came from and she was so tickled and excited,” he says.
Veteran's Meat Locker has gained support throughout Montana, and other states have contacted Grudzinski to learn about creating similar programs. He and his wife make no money off of Veteran's Meat Locker; he does it because he understands the importance of lending a hand to those who served their country.
“I know a lot of veterans (myself included) struggled, and this little gesture really means a lot and motivates them to keep going,” he says.