Pictured above are Billie Mills, office manager for the Oglala Sioux Tribe Veterans Shelter, and Charles Henderson, mental health program specialist.
VA and community organizations are getting nutritious meals to Veterans in South Dakota and Arkansas.
A broad smile comes across the face of Janet Nowak, chief of Nutrition and Food Service, when she starts talking about keeping Veterans healthy through proper nutrition. Yet, too many Veterans are unable to obtain or prepare regular nutritious meals. Through a new food donation program, VA Black Hills Health Care System is doing its part to improve access to high quality protein foods by taking unused food and distributing it to Veterans in the community.
The VA Food Donation Program is a Green Environmental Management System (GEMS) initiative to reduce waste. The authority for the program comes from the Federal Food Donation Act of 2008, which encourages executive agencies and contractors “ the maximum extent practicable and safe, to donate excess, apparently wholesome food to feed food-insecure people in the United States.”
At VA Black Hills, occasional food waste happens in the Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program (RRTP) because of the unpredictable nature of preparing and serving food to a varying number of Veterans. Leftover food at the end of the day is still wholesome and superior in quality, it’s just leftover. Now because of the Food Donation program the unused food is safely packaged, frozen, and distributed by volunteers.
American Legion helps with deliveries
In starting the program, Nowak knew she needed community support to deliver the food where it is needed. She shared information about the program with the American Legion Auxiliary in Hot Springs.
“We couldn’t let it pass,” said Jeanie Harper, American Legion Auxilary member. Excitement to get involved spread throughout the American Legion and the Auxiliary.
The RRTP’s excess food is safely stored in freezers until it’s time for delivery. The first delivery occurred July 27, when American Legion Auxiliary volunteers brought food to Veterans throughout the Hot Springs area. Deliveries occur every other week for now, but program supporters are trying to raise awareness and increase the frequency. During each visit, knowledgeable volunteers are able to share resources if the Veteran needs something more.
Harper, who is leading the American Legion Auxiliary’s involvement, is not a stranger to giving back to Veterans. Her grandfather, father, and all uncles were Veterans, and she is a lifetime member of the VFW and the Auxilary. She started volunteering at the age of six. Harper said, “I was born knowing that you take care of Veterans.” Her enthusiasm and organizational skills have contributed to the program’s early success.
Mental health specialist gets meals to homeless Veterans
Charles Henderson, a mental health program specialist with VA, also plays an important role in the food donation program. When Nowak reached out to him he immediately knew it was a great idea. Henderson works with a number of homeless Vets and he knows they can use it. His delivery route takes him to Pine Ridge on the Oglala Sioux Reservation. His first stop is seeing Veterans in the VA Transitional Residences and Grant Per Diem program. Depending on the amount of food he can assist four to 10 Veterans each visit. Economic resources are tight and the occasional food assistance allows Veterans using these programs to save income for other necessities.
The program appears to benefit the volunteers too. Henderson said, “It’s a reward to help the Veterans.” Everyone involved wants to see the program grow to reach more Veterans in need.
“Good nutrition is the basics of good health,” Nowak added. “Your body uses what it ingests for growth, repair and everyday living. If it does not receive adequate amounts of nutrients to complete daily tasks, it will borrow from various systems in the body to meet the needs of the more critical functions.”
This innovative program reflects VA’s mission to improve the health and well-being of our Veterans. The staff came up with a truly creative solution to achieve sustained Veteran health. VA Black Hills Health Care System will continue to support the growth of the Food Donation Program through community partnerships.
Thanks to Teresa Forbes, public affairs officer, VA Black Hills Health Care System
For these VA employees, health care is about healing the entire Veteran
Two VA Nurses planted the seed
In 2010, two nurses from the Overton Brooks VA Medical Center’s Community Outpatient Clinic in Texarkana, Arkansas, Delta Morris and Stephanie Greer, heard a Veteran say he did not have enough food for him and his wife.
The nurses went on their lunch break and returned with food for them. They soon realized that there were other Veterans at the clinic that needed food as well. Other employees at the clinic started bringing food for those Veterans and their families. They considered these Veterans heroes and named the effort “Heroes’ Pantry.”
As word spread others within the community began to donate as well. Unfortunately, the pantry soon had to close due to lack of storage, but Trinity Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Texarkana welcomed the Heroes’ Pantry.
On the third Wednesday of each month, volunteers serve lunch to over 70 Veterans (over 100 in November and December), and each Veteran receives a box of food to take home. The food is donated by various organizations, schools, families and grocery stores throughout the community. The pantry is currently directed by Wanda Majors.
Today, Texarkana VA Clinic employees collect food to donate to the pantry throughout the year and attend the Hero’s Pantry each month, to ensure Veterans’ health care needs are being met. In October, there was some concern that they didn’t have enough food for the upcoming months that are the most attended.
That’s all the Texarkana VA staff needed to hear. During the month of October, the Texarkana VA Clinic donated over 166 pounds of food and have already collected food donations for next month.
Thanks Mary Kay Gominger, interim public affairs officer, Overton Brooks VA Medical Center
Authors: Teresa Forbes, public affairs officer, VA Black Hills Health Care System, and Mary Kay Gominger, interim public affairs officer, Overton Brooks VA Medical Center