Texas VA partners with local Food Bank to fight hunger

Helping Veterans through business system transformation


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 McALLEN, Texas — More than 250 vehicles drove through a parking lot with boxes and pallets of produce as the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) partnered with VA Texas Valley Costal Bend Health Care System (VCB) to fight hunger among Veterans and their families by hosting a free produce distribution drive-thru on December 12, 2018, at the McAllen VA Outpatient Clinic (MOPC) here.

“We are delighted to partner with the VA to host this event and fight hunger among those who have fought for our liberty,” said Ruby Martinez, communications manager for Food Bank of the RGV.

Project manager, Miguel Del Bosque confirmed the Veteran status of would-be recipients, and kept track of the number of people receiving donations, while fellow Food Bank of the RGV staff members Lorena Hertz, Rachel Mendoza and Yara Doyle worked nonstop during the 3-hour-long event.

The trio quickly put together donation packs that weighed more than 50 pounds and featured an assortment of fruits and vegetables such pineapples, blackberries, English cucumbers, limes, sweet potatoes and grapes among others.

“It’s a pretty good workout, and I may feel sore later, but it is for good cause and our Veterans deserve our help,” said Hertz.

“That’s right,” said Mendoza as she carried a donation pack up and over the tall tailgate of a pickup truck driven by an elderly Marine Corps Veteran, who along with his wife were quick to show their gratitude by wishing the hardworking trio a happy holiday season by saying appreciative phrases like merry Christmas, god bless and thank you all while smiling and driving away to their homes knowing they and their loved ones would not be going hungry at least for today.

Overall, a total of 273 families consisting of 607 adults and 226 children (from military families) received more than 10,100 pounds of nutritious fruits and vegetables.

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According to Lisa Herrera, the clinic’s administrative officer, this year’s produce drive-thru marks the second time an event of this kind has taken place at the VA facility.

Herrera said she wasn’t physically able attend last year’s event due to other official duties; however, she recalls hearing some Veterans and staff members comment about it.

“I was informed last year’s drive-thru did not have as many cars or Veterans as they expected, but I think the cold and wet weather may have been a factor for several of our elderly Veterans not coming by,” said Herrera.  “Thankfully, the weather was in our favor today and this event turned out be a bigger success than we imagined. We greatly appreciate the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley and their staff members for their selfless and generous effort, and we look forward to more events like this in the future.”

According to a testimony delivered to the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition in January 2016, more than 300,000 elderly Veterans are faced with food insecurity and confront the same barriers faced by all seniors trying to access benefits – stigma, misinformation about potential eligibility, and a daunting application process.

More recent Veterans face serious challenges as well.

According to a 2012 University of Minnesota study of soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, one in four Veterans report being food insecure (27%), and 12% of those Veterans were classified as having very low food security. A significant portion of the Veterans facing food insecurity are homeless or are at-risk of becoming homeless.

Thankfully the VA has programs in place to assist Veteran and families in such cases. A list of programs can be found by clicking the hyperlink for Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) provided in this sentence.

VCB’s partnership with community organizations like the Food Bank of the RGV  is part of the ongoing local and national efforts by the VA to improve on the critical part of the federal department’s fourth top priority of transforming our business systems, which VA Secretary Robert Wilkie,  explained in a state-of-the-VA message, “is also about more robust partnerships with state and local communities to address challenges like Veteran homelessness and suicide prevention.

 (Disclaimer: Mentioning of any private individuals, organizations or businesses is strictly for news and informational purposes only. No federal endorsement intended or implied.)

Author

Luis Loza Gutierrez

Luis H. Loza Gutierrez joined the Department of Veterans Affairs in October of 2017 and serves as a public affairs specialist for VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System more commonly referred to as VCB.

In addition to winning multiple awards as a writer, editor, photographer, illustrator and graphic artist during his more than 10 years in the U.S. Air Force as a public affairs specialist and photojournalist, L.G. (as he was called by his fellow Airmen) also served as a member for the Grand Forks Air Force Base Honor Guard in North Dakota.

He volunteered to deploy out of cycle twice in a period of less than 18 months, the second of which included a six-month tour as a member of the public affairs team at United States Force-Iraq headquarters at Camp Victory in Baghdad.

The former non-commissioned officer returned home to the Rio Grande Valley in deep South Texas in November of 2015, and feels enthusiastic and honored to continue to serve his fellow brothers- and sisters-in-arms as a member of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.