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Food Pantry at VA: Veterans, Food Insecurity, and Serving Those Who’ve Served Us All

Food Pantry at VAGLA

An astounding fact to believe is that over 11 percent of working-age Veterans are struggling to secure nutritious food.

And yet, this is exactly what is happening.

Food Insecurity, What Are We Doing About It?

West LA VA is working with its community partners to address this issue by offering two opportunities per week for Veterans and their families to access free produce and other food items. Both involve donations from Westside Food Bank.

  • Every Monday from 11am-5pm at the Bandini Foundation’s Heroes Golf Course; excepting holidays, in which case the event will be rescheduled for Tuesday of that week.
  • Every Wednesday from noon-1pm at VA Building 500 Exercise Pavilion.

In addition to supplying food to the Heroes Food Bank, Westside Food Bank offers listings for other pantry sites as well as pop-up pantries throughout the Westside, Inglewood, and Van Nuys. Click here for a complete list of locations. The Westside Food Bank has been serving its mission to end hunger in our communities by providing access to free nutritious food since 1981.

Food insecurity describes a consistent lack of access to enough food to sufficiently feed a household. During the quarantine in 2020, 1 in 3 of all households in City of Los Angeles were experiencing food insecurity. By the first half of 2021, those numbers fell to 1 in 10. But even with such a decrease, 1 in 10 still represents over a million people.

While 11 percent of working-age Veterans living with food insecurity is bad enough, this number doesn’t include family members. And, unfortunately, research on the causes and conditions behind it are lacking – according to the research from the Food and Nutrition National Bulletin, data and information are “virtually absent.”

The Heroes Food Pantry Is Here to Help

Among its offerings, the Heroes Food Pantry provides fresh fruit and vegetables, a variety of canned and dry goods, and prepared foods provided by Bread and Roses Kitchen – a vocational kitchen where underserved students prepare meals for those in need as part of the training. A study published by the journal Frontiers in Medicine found that for the food insecure, the use of food pantries improved the nutritional quality of their diets, especially in their consumption of fruits and vegetables. The study offers further validation of the importance of food pantries as not only vital for emergencies like hunger, but also support long-term benefits in the form of improved nutrition and healthier outcomes.

Bruce Rosen, executive director at the Bandini Foundation, who also has an association with the Westside Food Bank for 32 years, says the food serves as a tribute.

“The food is distributed to Veterans without any pre-qualifications – just like the use of the golf course – regardless of financial situation,” he said. “It’s a thank you and acknowledgment for their service and sacrifices.”  

Rosen believes the pantry is also an important way to “create strong bonds and build a community among Veterans that use it.” 

The pantry also helps Veterans who are on limited or fixed incomes manage their monthly resources. One regular visitor to the pantry is 94-year-old Veteran Larry Manzo. Larry served at the end of World War II – out of 16 million Americans that served during the war, Larry is one of the estimated 174,000 still with us. Larry lives independently and loves telling stories and jokes. Because Larry also caddied as a boy and has golfed much of his life, the golf course, the camaraderie, and the comestibles from the pantry are his family now. Also – as a vegetarian of many years – the available fresh fruit and vegetables are vital for his lifestyle.

“The pantry saves me money,” Manzo said. “The fresh ingredients are perfect for me. And the community here is a great reason to be 94. I couldn’t imagine my life without it.”

The Bandini Foundation also wants it known that while their mission is to proudly serve those who served us, the food they provide is available to all who need it. There are no boundaries on serving where there is want.

What Happens When People Don’t Get Enough to Eat

The problem of food insecurity is also about the quality of diets and individuals and families not having access to healthful, quality food choices. According to the American Heart Association, “inconsistent access to healthy food does have adverse health effects…[for those] stuck with eating food that is more likely to bring on chronic disease.” And though it may seem counterintuitive, poor nutrition can also lead to obesity. Limited access to healthy foods can force choices that are cheaper, more convenient, and less nutritious – such as fast food. Cheaper options tend to be the least healthful.

Hunger is more than a discomfort and inconvenience:

  • Food insecurity also increases the likelihood of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, or cancer.
  • A study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine found that children that experienced at least two episodes of  hunger had nearly five times higher odds of poor health than children who were never hungry.
  • According to data from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, high school students who are able to eat breakfast every day get better grades than those who are not.
  • Food insecurity, and its causes, can also be sources of stress. Stress can contribute to unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, poor eating, and physical inactivity, all which increase risk of heart disease and stroke, according to an American Heart Association scientific statement.
  • Those most likely to be food insecure are disabled Veterans, and when you consider that Post-9/11 Veterans have a 43 percent chance of having a service-connected disability, the potential numbers are heartbreaking.

For financially stressed Veterans, saving monthly costs on food helps them to cover other basic needs like rent, gas, utilities, etc. In this, food pantries do much more than just satisfy hunger.

*The Bandini family was one of the two founding families that donated the land that would become West LA VA. At the golf course, all Veterans play free of charge. The foundation only hires Veterans to through the course’s jobs training programs. The Foundation partners with many local country clubs to help with the hiring process after training. One program offers golf as a therapeutic tool for teaching Veterans in recovery about mindfulness and other techniques.


Disclaimer: The inclusion in this article of external links is done to provide the reader with further information on the general topic of the article and does not imply endorsement by the Department of Veterans Affairs.