ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Two Maryland men have received AARP Maryland’s highest honors for folks age 50 and older for giving back to their communities, one by helping veterans cut through bureaucracy and the other by getting food to people in need.

Retired U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Curtis “Gunny” Jones won the Maryland State President’s Award for steering fellow veterans through the VA system to get benefits. Jones said many veterans come home after serving with issues such as PTSD or exposure to chemicals such as Agent Orange. He pointed out that they need extra support but often don’t know where to turn to get it.

“As a whole, the system works. It’s not broken,” he said. “The average veteran doesn’t know that he rates VA health care. So, if you don’t know to go to the VA and seek health care, you don’t get it. And people don’t know that – so they suffer because of a lack of knowledge.”

In the past 10 years, mostly through word of mouth, Jones has helped folks across the country – and as far away as the Netherlands – submit claims for health support, from medical treatment to wheelchair ramps. The awards, to him – and to Sanjay Srivastava for his food distribution efforts in Howard County – were presented in a virtual ceremony Thursday.

Srivastava won this year’s AARP Andrus Award for Community Service. He said he also began by using word of mouth to feed hungry Marylanders in Ellicott City when he saw the need firsthand during the pandemic. Through his Indian Cultural Association, he organized a large group of volunteers to distribute food, totaling more than 2 million pounds as of May.

“I’ve had 14-year-old kids call me and say, ‘Hey, are you the food guy?’ And I say, ‘Sure.’ And they say, ‘We have no food.’ And they’re calling on behalf of their parents or their neighbors,” he said. “And these are kids. And so, we owe it to one another to stand up and do something about it.”

The group sets up food stations at libraries, senior housing and churches in Howard County. Food distribution in the state has surged more than 85% in the pandemic, according to the Maryland Food Bank.

There’s more information on the Indian Cultural Association’s Facebook page.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service

Diane Bernard is a digital and radio journalist based in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area with more than 10 years of journalism experience. Her print and online credits include work for The Washington...

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