Veterans market in Cedarhurst celebrates five years of community support


No matter the branch of the military, veterans are welcomed with open arms to the veterans market in Cedarhurst, hosted by Rock and Wrap It Up!, the award-winning anti-poverty think tank established by Cedarhurst resident Syd Mandelbaum 28 years ago.

The market, which started out as an experiment amid the Covid pandemic in July 2020, will celebrate five years on July 1.

“At the very beginning, I felt a lot of our senior vets would be at risk going into stores during the pandemic,” Mandelbaum, chief executive and founder of Rock and Wrap It Up! said. “I reached out to stores I already had relationships with, and said it would be a great help to us. Even when the weather is inclement, we’re here with our tents up.”

Veterans feel a sense of community and comfort knowing that their fellow vets want to give back and help those in need.

All of the goods that are offered, ranging from bread and produce to flowers, books and laundry detergent, are free, thanks to donations from Trader Joe’s, Costco, and community members.

“It has reached into other perspectives,” Mandelbaum said. “We have people here who have health issues that were disclosed to me, and I thought, this is a great place for them to come and surround themselves with happiness.” 

The market is open three days a week, on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings from 10 to 11:15 a.m. It is staffed by volunteering veterans of all ages.

“All of us are veterans — we share a bond — but this is a bond also setting up the market every day,” Mandelbaum, who is retired from the Air Force Reserves, said.

The environment is friendly and uplifting, as veterans fill their bags with a wide range of products that they need.

“It has become a convivial place for people not just to get their food, but to come here and sit and schmooze,” Mandelbaum said. “It’s like a clubhouse outdoors. People come to have a place to stay, they stay a couple of hours and it becomes an experience they can’t get anywhere else.”

Left-over items are taken to the Five Towns Community Center, in Lawrence, where they are donated. The center has some 80 to 100 families that are in need, according to Mandelbaum, and the donations help make a difference in their lives.

“Knowing that what I do helps other people, and assisting other elderly veterans who can’t afford to buy food at a supermarket, makes me feel great doing it,” said Anthony Samuel, a retired Air Force Reserves master sergeant who is still active in the Navy. 

Samuel has been volunteering at the market for three years. He helps load and unload the truck at Trader Joe’s, and transports food to the community center. He calls himself a “worker bee.”

The market works in cooperation with Lawrence-Cedarhurst American Legion Post 339, and Samuel learned about it from his wife, who is a member of the post.

“You’re family here,” Samuel said. “Everyone treats each other like family members, and there’s no rank — everyone is equal.”

Vietnam veteran Pat Alesia has been volunteering at the market for five years. Since the day he started, he knew he belonged.

“I find it very fulfilling and enjoyable,” Alesia said. “It’s a team approach, a family approach.”

He enjoys helping veterans any way he can, he said, while still being in good health. “You see the smiles on their faces, rain or shine,” he said.

The market has grown over the course of five years, and now serves as many as 20 veterans each day it is open.

“It’s a pleasant place to be, and to me that’s the greatest,” Mandelbaum said, “that we have a place that has become its own post.”