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Southern Illinois foundation starts unique program to feed veterans

The Southern Illinoisan - 2/2/2023

Feb. 1—For Michael Robertson and his family, a new effort of the Angelo Joseph Camarato Foundation not only honors a family patriarch by providing fresh food to area veterans, it's also giving the family's business an outlet for excess inventory.

The A.J.C. Foundation's latest project is a veteran's market, where on Fridays, local veterans can select — completely free of charge — ready-made sandwiches, salads and other food items. It's all a part of the organization's mission to make sure no local veteran goes hungry.

Michael Robertson, president of the foundation and co-owner of Robertson Vending, said the project is a perfect fit. Carmarato was his grandfather and a decorated Army Veteran who was adamant about taking care of others whenever possible. Additionally, the company, which stocks cafeteria, snack rooms and "micro markets" in manufacturing plants and warehouses throughout the region, often removes food items from inventory as they near the manufacturer's "best by" date.

Through the organization and its Friday markets, this food that normally would have just been discarded is now being put to good use.

"The most difficult part of the vending business is that the food has such a short date, and we, like operators all across the country, find that a lot of it goes to waste, but instead of just wasting it, we can actually give the food to people that need it," Robertson said. "It's all fresh, just toward the end of its shelf life."

Last week was the first time the market was open, but Robertson said he expects a bigger response this week, thanks to a social media post that has been shared dozens of times.

"The response has been wonderful from everybody. It's overwhelming," he said, adding that the focus on veterans is intentional. "Our company was founded by my grandfather who was a sergeant major in the Army. I'm sure he would be pretty proud to know that we're trying to make a difference with people in his honor."

Robertson said available quantities of food are limited, but the organization hopes to help as many veterans each week as possible. Veterans in need of food can "shop" at the market from 10 a.m.2 p.m. on Fridays in the lobby of Robertson Vending, 1764 N. Illinois Ave. in Carbondale. Veterans must present their DD214 form. Those who cannot shop in person may designate a pick-up person.

He said many local residents have asked how they can provide assistance. Because the effort is new and organizers are still refining the process, Robertson suggested those wanting to help make financial donations to A.J.C. Foundation, 1764 N. Illinois Ave., Carbondale, IL 62901.

"We're new and we are learning, but we want to make a difference," he said. "I feel that this charity can help veterans while doing great things with food we were just going to throw away."

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