Veterans running for office put pandemic plight before politics
ALIQUIPPA, Pennsylvania -- Retired Army Capt. Sean Parnell, a decorated war veteran who served in combat in Afghanistan, found himself doing what he always does when he feels the need to serve.
"My community is struggling right now," he said. "It is sort of not in my nature to stand by and do nothing. One of the things I learned in the Army is that when you are a leader, you need to go where the contact is heaviest."
Parnell, the Republican candidate for Congress running against Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb, said he decided to look around and see where the biggest need is in the communities surrounding him. "I saw that the Salvation Army had started to distribute bag lunches to schoolchildren in nearby Beaver County, so I checked with the CDC protocols on doing something like that, then called the local Salvation Army to see what they needed and how I could help provide it safely," he said.
Last week, all schools in Pennsylvania were ordered to close to minimize spread of the new coronavirus, leaving a gap in service for children, and their parents or caregivers who depend on their school's free lunch programs.
Parnell, the father of three, said he could not just stand by and not get involved. He used the Salvation Army's list of food the children need and then went to grocery stores, stocked up on supplies and delivered food to volunteers staffing the lunch locations.
He paid for the food out of his own pocket.
"As public schools are closed, there are lots of kids that are lower-income kids that go to those schools and eat two meals a day there," Parnell said. "And now kids don't have school, and so it's incumbent upon all of us at the local level to try to feed those kids and make sure that they have nutrition throughout this crisis."
Other veterans across the county who are running for local, state and federal offices found their daily routines and schedules upended by the precautions put in place to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
In nearby O'Hara township, Marco Attisano, a Navy veteran and Democrat running for the state House, said he took himself and his entire campaign team to the local blood bank to donate much-needed blood.
Attisano, 35, said the campaign has suspended normal electioneering such as door-knocking and was searching for places in need. "I was looking for a way to serve in this moment," he said.