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STEP program prepares for big donation drive for San Diego military families

Support The Enlisted Project will give active duty military and veteran families financial planning help and food with their drive-through donation drive on July 11.

SAN DIEGO — STEP, or Support the Enlisted Project, is stepping up in a big way during the coronavirus crisis bagging up necessary household items for military families in need. Volunteers from U.S. Bank recently bagged up food for servicemembers, veterans and their families for an upcoming drive.

Anything from canned chili, beans, tuna and diced tomatoes went into bright red bags that weighed nearly 30 pounds when filled.

Tony Teravainen, CEO and co-founder of STEP, grew up in a military family and served in the U.S. Navy for eight-and-a-half years before he medically retired.

“Having lived the life and known the life, experienced it and then getting away from it and coming back to it, I can see and empathize,” Teravainen said.

STEP works to provide emergency financial and transition assistance grants to active duty and recently discharged enlisted military and their families.

"We connect with families to help them understand that they don't need to live in constant crisis or financial pressures or food insecurity,” he said.

Navy wife and veteran Jennifer Kennington has worked for STEP for over a year. She said there has been increased uncertainty for military spouses during the pandemic.

“Just being on deployment and being a spouse with children and trying to work, it is difficult to try to juggle everything, so much added stress than if we were pre-pandemic,” Kennington said.

The military mother of two girls is expecting a baby boy due on Halloween, and Kennington said the global pandemic isn't helping. But STEP's Urgent Need Distribution on Saturday, July 11 at 10 a.m. outside their offices in Scripps Ranch will help over 300 low-earning military families.

“There's a sign-up sheet, there's no questions asked, you just sign up, you show up, and we put it in your trunk and then you can leave,” Kennington said.

The drive will give away all kinds of pantry items and baby needs from diapers and wipes.

“It's no contact, it's distanced, they feel safe. They don't even have to roll their window down, they can hold their ID card up, we can check them in through the glass,” Teravainen said.

Inside each bag will be a STEP flyer notifying them of the program and caseworkers and social workers will be there to help. Teravainen said over 6,000 families in Southern California have been served by STEP, which is completely community-funded and doesn’t take state or federal grants.

“At our past distributions, the families are super grateful, and we're just grateful that they're out here with us,” Kennington said.

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