Kate Mayor: "When you get out of the service, most of the time, people struggle." Food For Vets is scheduled to open March 17 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 1839 Cowen Road in Gulf Breeze.

GULF BREEZE — Somewhere between seeing people panhandling with signs reading "Hungry vet" and hearing about the death of Navy veteran and homeless man "Sprite Mike" Wilson, Kate Mayor realized she had to do something.

On a recent trip to Arkansas to help a friend who operates a food pantry for veterans, Mayor figured out that "something." She, too, would open up a food pantry for veterans, one that would also serve low-ranking military personnel who sometimes struggle to meet family needs from month to month.

"When you get out of the service, most of the time, people struggle," Mayor said.

As a 100-percent disabled Air Force veteran who left military service in 1991, Mayor and her husband, Tony, who retired from the Navy in 1996, have seen this story play out a number of times.

Mayor hopes her new nonprofit organization, Food For Vets, will help ease that struggle. Operating out of a 745-square-foot space at 1839 Cowen Road in Gulf Breeze, Food For Vets is scheduled to open March 17 from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

From then, the food pantry will open on the third Saturday of every month. That was a deliberate choice, Mayor said, to help people who may be coming to the end of the month with dwindling financial resources.

By simply showing proof of their status as an honorably discharged veteran or low-ranking service member, Mayor said "they can take as much as they want."

People who can't immediately prove their status will get help from Food For Vets in acquiring the needed identification, she said.

"The shelves are actually full right now," Mayor said, although much of what is available is breakfast cereals, snack foods and similar items.

"We really need more of the proteins, like peanut butter and canned meats," she said.

For now, Food For Vets can supply only nonperishable food, but Mayor hopes someone might donate a freezer so the pantry eventually can offer perishable items. She also plans to reach out to local farmers and people raising chickens to add fresh vegetables and eggs to Food For Vets' offerings.

Mayor's decision to establish Food For Vets in Gulf Breeze was designed to provide relatively easy access for veterans and active-duty personnel living in and near the military installations in Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach. Eventually, she said she'd like to have a mobile pantry to provide even easier access to people who may not have transportation.

While Food For Vets isn't technically open yet, it already has served its first customers. A family of four contacted Mayor last week after seeing the Food For Vets website, www.foodforvets.org, and she opened the facility to them.

For now, Food For Vets is operating largely with Mayor's personal resources. "So far, it's funded by me and a couple of donations," she said.

Mayor is paying the $600 monthly lease out of her own pocket.

Mayor is working to establish local food drives to keep the shelves stocked at Food For Vets. She hinted during an interview that for many people, donating to Food For Vets could be as simple as searching their kitchen cabinets for extra cans of food. Information on making donations of food, or money or time is available on the pantry's website.

Despite its relatively humble beginnings, Mayor is optimistic about her nonprofit organization's future.

"The credit card is stretched kind of low," she laughed, "but I know good things are going to happen."