VA Black Hills Health Care System
Food Donation Program
By Teresa Forbes, Public Affairs Officer
Wednesday, November 8, 2017Veteran Health Improved through VA Black Hills Health Care System Food Donation Program
A broad smile comes across the face of Janet Nowak, Chief of Nutrition and Food Service when she starts talking about keeping Veterans healthy through proper nutrition. Yet, the regular availability of a nutritious meal is something that too many Veterans are unable to obtain or prepare. Through a new Food Donation program, VA Black Hills Health Care System is doing it’s part to improve access to high quality protein foods by taking unused food and distributing it to Veterans in the community.
The VA Food Donation Program is a Green Environmental Management System (GEMS) initative to reduce waste. The Federal Food Donation Act of 2008 provides the authority for this program. According to the Act, “The purpose of this Act is to encourage executive agencies and contractors of executive agencies, to the maximum extent practicable and safe, to donate excess, apparently wholesome food to feed food-insecure people in the United States.”
At VA Black Hills, occasional food waste happens in the Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program (RRTP) because of the unpredicatable nature of preparing and serving food to a varying number of Veterans. Leftover food at the end of the day is still wholesome and superior in quality, it’s just leftover. Now because of the Food Donation program the unused food is safely packaged, frozen, and readied for pick up by volunteers who will distribute.
In starting the program, Ms. Nowak knew she needed community support to deliver the food where it is needed. She shared information about the program with the American Legion Auxillary in Hot Springs. “We couldn’t let it pass,” said Jeanie Harper, American Legion Auxilary member. Excitement to get involved spread throughout the American Legion and the Auxilary. The RRTP’s excess food is safely stored in the Post Home freezers until it’s time for delivery. July 27, 2017, was the first delivery of food by American Legion Auxiliary volunteers to Veterans throughout the Hot Springs area. The schedule is every other week for now, but they are working to grow the program by getting the word out. During each visit, knowledgeable volunteers are able to share resources if the Veteran needs something more.
Harper, who is leading the American Legion Auxiliary’s involvement, is not a stranger to giving back to Veterans. It comes naturally to her coming from a family of Veterans, inlcuding her grandfather, father, and all uncles. She is a lifetime member of the VFW and American Legion Auxilary and started volunteering at the age of six. Harper said, “I was born knowing that you take care of Veterans.” Her enthusiasm and organizational skills have contributed to the program’s early success.
Charles Henderson, MHA, a Mental Health Program Specialist with VA, also plays an important role in the food donation program. When Ms. Nowak reached out to him he immeidately knew it was a great idea. Henderson works with a number of homeless Vets and he knows they can use it. His delivery route takes him to Pine Ridge on the Oglala Sioux Reservation. His first stop is seeing Veterans in the VA Transitional Residences and Grant Per Diem program. Depending on the amount of food he can assist between 4 to 10 Veterans each visit. Economic resources are tight and the occasional food assistance allows Veterans using these programs to save income for other neccessities.
The program appears to benefit the volunteers too. Henderson said, “It’s a reward to help the Veterans.” Everyone involved wants to see the program grow to reach more Veterans in need.
“Good nutrition is the basics of good health,” Nowak adds. “Your body uses what it ingests for growth, repair and everyday living. If it does not receive adequate amounts of nutrients to complete daily tasks, it will borrow from various systems in the body to meet the needs of the more critical functions.”
This innovative program reflects VA’s mission to improve the health and well-being of our Veterans. The staff came up with a truly creative solution to achieve sustained Veteran health. VA Black Hills Health Care System will continue to support the growth of the Food Donation Program through community partnerships.