Free produce for Veterans at Charleston VA

Veterans notified by text


shadow

The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center hosted a Fresh Xpress Produce Distribution for Veterans. The hospital has been hosting the free, quarterly event for more than a year. This time, though, the distribution was held in a different, socially distant, curbside format.

Charleston VAMC staff began disbursing the boxes at 8 a.m., and all produce was gone by 11:15 a.m.

Pictured above, Charleston VAMC Director Scott Isaacks and High Reliability Program Manager Kathleen Gillard load boxes of fresh produce into a Veteran’s van. Photo by James Arrowood.

Fresh zucchini, corn and apples were distributed to Veterans.

“This is so important right now. Families are struggling and fresh produce can be expensive,” said Margaret Bradbury. Bradbury is Charleston VAMC’s chief of Nutrition and Food Service. “This gives our Veterans some healthy alternatives when money is tight.”

Partnership with Lowcountry Food Bank

The pre-filled boxes were purchased at a discount by VA through a partnership with the Lowcountry Food Bank. This quarter’s selection contained a beautiful variety of local produce, all provided to Veterans by VA at no cost. The produce included peaches, apples, green peppers, potatoes, corn and squash.

The distribution served 181 Veterans with 280 boxes totaling more than 5,600 pounds produce. This is the largest number of Veterans reached at any Fresh Xpress event.

“I believe the reason we were able to reach so many Veterans this time is because we utilized an online registration tool that allowed us to send reminders to Veterans,” said Bradbury.

Used online tool to send text to Veterans

The Veterans who attended the Fresh Xpress market in January were registered when they arrived. The online tool gave the Charleston VAMC team the ability to securely contact each one of those Veterans through text message that alerted them about the next event.

Charleston VAMC is a pilot site for the VA Feeding America Food Pantry. It is deploying the use of the online registration tool and messaging service.

The online registration tool also asks Veterans if they have a need for Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP) benefits or if they have concerns about their housing stability.

If Veterans indicate they need assistance in these two areas during the prompts, Charleston VAMC social workers call the Veterans directly for a more in-depth evaluation and to further connect them to services.

“Not only is this tool giving us the ability to reach more Veterans, but it also ties in the social services they may be needing,” said Bradbury.

The next Fresh Xpress Produce Distribution will likely be curbside again in compliance with current recommendations.

Author

Erin Curran

Erin Curran is public affairs specialist at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina. She has been with the VA for three and a half years and is passionate about sharing Veterans’ stories that highlight the strength of these national heroes.