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Free produce for Veterans

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.
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.

On July 28, the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center hosted its first curbside Fresh Xpress Produce Distribution for Veterans.

The hospital has been hosting the free, quarterly event for more than a year, but due to COVID-19, 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.

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

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

The July distribution served 181 Veterans with 280 boxes totaling more than 5,600 pounds produce. This is the most Veterans that have been 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.

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 July event. Charleston VAMC is pilot site for the VA Feeding America Food Pantry that 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 is scheduled for Oct. 27 from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m., or when produce runs out. This event will likely be curbside again due recommendations related to COVID-19 and will be held at the back of the VAMC parking lot located at 109 Bee Street directly behind the medical center. For more information on this and other upcoming events, stay connected through Charleston VAMC’s Facebook page.

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