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Faces of Hunger: Oscar Veiga

Most days, Oscar Veiga finds himself surrounded by mountains of food.

“I’ve stacked so many cans of food you could build a house out of it!” the 73-year-old Oscar
chuckles as he describes his full-time job in a Wal-Mart grocery department.

Despite that fact, it is not his to consume. And, in fact, if not for the help of The Place of Forsyth
and the foodstuffs he accesses there – provided by deliveries from Georgia Mountain Food
Bank – Oscar and his wife of 46 years, Emma, might actually find themselves going hungry.

“My wife and I are so grateful for The Place,” Oscar said. “Everyone here is so friendly, and they
have been a huge help for us.”

It is not the kind of situation Oscar ever saw himself involved with – but, following a circuitous
route to living in Forsyth County, he has re-established a life of which he and Emma can be
proud.

Natives of Cuba, Oscar and Emma were always hard workers. Oscar labored as an electrical
engineer and airplane mechanic in the army, while Emma administrated a dentist’s office.

Their son, meanwhile, took an interest in travel and, eventually, in the United States. Though it
took him some time to reach these shores, as he first moved to Spain. But after suffering
through a divorce and then living alone in a nation facing serious financial difficulty, Oscar’s son
determined to immigrate to the U.S., which he accomplished in the 2000s.

For Oscar and Emma, the move presented a chance to reunite with their only son. So, upon
retiring from the Cuban army, Oscar uprooted his existence for a new life in the United States.
A development he has embraced, becoming an American citizen two years ago – Emma is still in
the midst of becoming a citizen.

The change did not come without problems, however. In fact, Oscar lost his military pension
due to the move. The Veigas’ ages also helped preclude them from a number of job
opportunities in their new country.

Oscar and Emma were determined to find employment, however, and Oscar discovered
opportunities at both Goodwill and in construction.

“I stayed working in Goodwill for seven years and worked for a builder,” said Oscar, who earned
enough to purchase a house in 2007 – just in time for the housing bubble to burst, a
development which, inevitably, cost Oscar his construction job.

Undeterred, Oscar’s continued employment search led him to Wal-Mart, where he has carved
out another niche for himself in keeping the shelves stocked with what, in his native land,
would be eye-popping amounts of food. Emma, however, has been hounded by health
concerns, the pain of arthritis making consistent work almost impossible.

Relying on just one income, the budget is extraordinarily tight in the Veiga household. So, when
a friend told him of The Place of Forsyth and what it offered, Oscar was willing to investigate.
What he found proved a revelation.

One of 14 Georgia Mountain Food Bank partners in Forsyth County, The Place last year helped
to distribute 1,009,304 pounds of food and grocery products. Situated in a county in which 5.3
percent of its 227,967 citizens live at or below the poverty level, The Place provides food
assistance to 600 households per month – that encompasses 1,600 individuals, 33 percent of
which are children and 12 percent seniors. The Place also provides a mobile food pantry on
Saturdays at various locations.

“We get what we need here for food,” said Oscar, who happily finds the kinds of nutrition at
The Place that allows him to maintain an impressively solid yet slender physique. “It’s been
great for us. We take vegetables, stuff for soup. Concentrated cans of vegetables are not as
healthy, so we wash the food inside. We make sure we’re only eating healthy. We have had to
get used to some things. The Cuban people eat rice; here in America they eat the potato! But
we have everything going well for us now, and we’re so happy to have found this place.”

The Place has also aided Oscar and Emma with bills and occasional needs such as Oscar’s
prescription glasses. And they are more than grateful for each benefit – bounties that allow
Oscar to do things like help his grandson work on a scouting project instead of worrying about
his next meal.

“I helped my grandson build a pinewood derby car, and he won first place for construction
design!” Oscar said. “I’m in good shape because of the food I get here. My wife is taking English
classes here. I think when I retire (from Wal-Mart) I’d like to come work and help here.”

Georgia Mountain Food Bank (GMFB), a Partner Distribution Organization of the Atlanta
Community Food Bank (ACFB), collects surplus food and grocery products for distribution to
nonprofit partner agencies serving the hungry in the Georgia Mountain region. Located in
Gainesville, GMFB collaborates with ACFB to provide food to nonprofits with hunger relief
programs in Dawson, Forsyth, Hall, Lumpkin and Union counties. These programs provide direct
assistance to families and individuals who are in need of food assistance and may range from
churches, food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters, rehabilitation programs, child care centers and
nursing homes.

“We are proud to partner with more than 70 agencies throughout northeast Georgia to help
families just like the Oscar and Emma,” says Kay Blackstock, executive direction at GMFB.
“Hunger is not new to our community. It has always been here, however, its face may be
surprising. Many aging adults are forced to make difficult decisions between rent, medicine,
food and other necessities because of their limited income. Yet, it is stories like the Veiga’s that
keep us focused in our fight against hunger because it truly does matter and truly does make a
difference.”