When Margaret Bradbury, Chief of Nutrition & Food Service at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center, opened the facility’s Veteran Food Pantry in December 2017 she hoped to make a difference for nutritionally-challenged patients by providing healthy foods for those in need.
Serving approximately 35 Veterans each month at the VAMC and others with non-perishable food boxes through our six Community Based Outpatient Clinics, the VA Food Pantry is doing just that.
Two years later, Bradbury and her team are working to expand the program by hosting Fresh Xpress in partnership with the Lowcountry Food Bank. Fresh Xpress is a farmer’s market that will be held at the VAMC four times in 2020 offering free produce to any Veteran regardless of their nutritional status. The first 2020 Fresh Xpress is planned for Jan. 28 from 9:00 a.m. until 12:00 p.m. at the front entrance of the VAMC. Veterans are asked to bring their own bags to the event.
“This is a way for us to get fresh fruits and vegetables into any Veteran’s hands,” explained Bradbury. “We do it as an open event for all Veterans.” VA Food Pantry patrons normally have a referral from Social Work verifying nutritional need.
Charleston VAMC’s first Fresh Xpress was held on May 21, 2019. In just five hours, 3,590 pounds of produce were distributed to 352 Veteran households that included 912 individuals. Produce items included carrots, cabbage, zucchini, lettuce, summer squash, sweet potatoes and greens – and free recipes for each food were available too.
While feeding hungry Veterans is the main purpose, Bradbury has also found personal fulfillment through the VA Food Pantry and Fresh Xpress events.
“We all need to have something in our regular day-to-day work that energizes us,” said Bradbury. “This is the way to really have one-on-one contact with our Veterans. It’s so good to be able to serve them in a different way.”