Richard’s Coffee Shop, like many businesses across the state, shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The shuttered doors mean more than just one less place to get a cup of coffee in Mooresville. For many veterans, the coffee shop is a link to others, said Executive Director John Hedley.

“This is lifeblood for some folks,” Hedley said.

He said about a half-dozen to a dozen veterans usually stop by the shop every day. The coffee is not the main draw, Hedley said. Instead, it provides a chance for social interaction, and the fact that it is no longer available is one of Hedley’s main concerns as the closure stretches into its third week.

“They feel kind of lost if they can’t get in there and share experiences,” he said. For many, he said, the hours they spend at Richard’s are the only social interaction they have because they may be widowed or have little family in the area.

Ralph Dagenhart, a Vietnam veteran who helps out at Richard’s, said some veterans who come there regularly are using social media to maintain some contact. “They get on Facebook and check in with one another,” he said.

While the shutdown of Richard’s means the loss of a social outlet, those who work to feed veterans in need are continuing on, although with many safeguards.

The Rev. Frank Turner, pastor of First Church of the Nazarene, said the Piedmont Veterans Assistance Council program that offers food to veterans in need is still providing those meals. Turner said the church, one of four sites across the county, is still giving out food twice a month for veterans, but it is taking all of the recommended precautions.

The church is sanitized regularly, and volunteers wear gloves and minimize contact between

themselves and those picking up the food items. They’re also limiting the number of people who come into the church to two at a time, he said.

Once inside, a volunteer, wearing a mask, checks the person in, and another volunteer signs the register for them. The veterans point out which items they want and a volunteer, again wearing gloves, places the items in a bag.

Turner said everything is conducted within Centers for Disease Control guidelines. “We’re complying with what the feds are telling us to do and practicing social distancing,” he said.

PVAC’s Pete Meletis said the feeding programs are vital for the veterans who need them and that’s why every effort will be made to make sure they continue. He said PVAC is donating money to the various sites to enable them to buy food.

Turner said he picked up about 3,000 pounds of food Thursday.

“We’re in operation and continuing to feed,” Meletis said.

Meletis said those involved in making sure these veterans don’t go hungry are committed to making sure that doesn’t happen.

“This is God’s work we’re doing,” he said.

While most nutritional needs are being met, Hedley said he hopes the veterans who look to Richard’s for companionship and a social life will be able to weather this crisis.

“I really feel bad for a lot of these veterans that (are) almost dependent on this comradery,” he said.

“I feel terrible. I wish I could reach out to these folks.”

The feeding program and food locations for veterans are as follows:

FeedNC, 275 S. Broad St., Mooresville, providing take-home meals on the first and third Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to noon.

Rocky Mount United Methodist Church, 1739 Perth Road, Mooresville; second and fourth Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

First Church of the Nazarene, 506 Medlin St., Statesville; first and third Thursdays, 4-7 p.m.

Union Grove United Methodist Church, 1331 Sloans Mill Road, Union Grove; second and fourth Thursdays, 4-6:30 p.m.

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