MERIDEN — When Meriden resident Pablo Soto talks about the work of Veterans Response, he uses military argot. He speaks about deployment. He talks about the mission.
It isn’t often he has to use those words about something happening in Connecticut, but COVID-19 changed all of that.
On Thursday afternoon Soto and a team from Veterans Response, a locally based non-profit disaster relief organization, raised money and delivered much needed supplies to the food pantry at New Opportunities of Greater Meriden, 55 West Main St.
Over the last several weeks Veterans Response has also helped out food pantries in Chester and Middletown. Next week they will be in New Britain. They’ve dubbed their work “Operation Hope.”
“We want to be part of the solution,” said Soto, an operations field specialist for the organization and a former Army combat engineer.
With more people out of work and dealing with food insecurity because of the COVID-19 crisis, items like canned goods and bar soap become especially important.
“That was one of the bigger things they wanted but we brought way more than that,” Soto said.
“Having this group come today, is just like, it’s a miracle,” Dona Ditrio, director of New Opportunities of Greater Meriden, told NBC 30 in an interview.
Veterans Response, a 30-member group, usually deploys its efforts in disasters, like in the aftermath of the recent hurricanes that battered Puerto Rico, North Carolina and the Bahamas. They divide into teams, each team spending a week at the particular location and then rotating out.
Ordinarily the group’s mission is to pump and distribute fresh water, but they adapt to the circumstances that present themselves.
Soto said after the recent earthquake in Puerto Rico, Veterans Response found that clean water wasn’t an issue, so they started working to provide bedding and tents for people who had been displaced because that was the need they encountered.
COVID-19 presents a different challenge — the enemy in this instance is unseen.
“We are accustomed to jumping into the fray. (This crisis) is no exception,” he said. “We don’t think of these things as ‘should we?’ or ‘shouldn’t we?’ We think of it as ‘how can we do it?’”
A shared military background creates a common work ethos, Soto said. He believes planning and executing jobs, from pumping clean water in a disaster area, to distributing food in the midst of an infection, comes naturally.
In this particular instance, Soto’s instinct to help comes from something more than duty. On Wednesday, his 23-year-old son was diagnosed with COVID-19.
“He’s doing well. But it is a scary thought,” he said.
For more information about Veterans Response, visit veteransresponse.org.