Mobile food pantry serves local veterans at VA

Mexia Jackson, Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, receives food from Ron “Black Eagle” Trussel, Vietnam Air Force Vietnam veteran, who serves as Quartermaster at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The center paired with Central Texas Food Bank for a food drive on Wednesday morning. Liesje Powers | Multimedia Editor

By McKenna Middleton | Opinion Editor

The Central Texas Food Bank is now offering a mobile food pantry site, which is catered to Waco’s veteran community as part of a partnership with the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System. The mobile food pantry will take place from 9 to 11 a.m., the first Wednesday of every month at the Doris Miller Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

This veterans mobile food pantry is part of the Veteran’s Pantry pilot program of Feeding America, a nationwide network of over 200 food banks, of which Central Texas Food Bank is a member. The program is in partnership with the Department of Veteran Affairs, according to the food bank’s press release. The Waco mobile food pantry for veterans is the Central Texas Food Bank’s third mobile food pantry specifically for veterans.

“We’ve been working for a couple of years now to expand our mobile pantry to expand to veterans,” Emily De Maria, Central Texas Food Bank chief program officer, said. “We’ve been honored to give back to so many that have given to serve our country in their time of need.”

The mobile food pantry directly distributes food to the individuals in need. In the case of this program, the pantry comes to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where veterans may already be going to get medical treatment.

“The purpose of a mobile pantry is to try to target the physical location where the population you’re trying to reach may already be,” De Maria said.

At it’s other Veteran’s Pantry Pilot program pantries, the food bank serves an average of 464 people at the Austin VA and 563 people at the Temple VA, according to the press release.

Floresville junior Bella Mahler, Veterans of Baylor’s marketing officer, served in the U.S. Air Force for five years. Mahler said the mobile aspect of the pantry will offer much needed convenience.

“I think it will be a great thing for the community for sure,” Mahler said. “I also think Baylor does a good job of connecting all the students who are food insecure. I think that’s an amazing thing that they’re doing, and it’s great that it’s mobile. Just having to go a little off route rather than making it a whole day’s event to go to this is really convenient.”

De Maria said she also hopes the food pantry will open doors for veterans to have access to healthy food and to start conversations with their health care providers about how nutrition can manage chronic disease.

“We can’t thank the Food Bank enough for improving the food security of our nation’s veterans and their families,” Christopher Sandles, director of Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, said in the press release. “VA is committed to serving veterans and helping them with access to healthy food through community partnerships.”

According to a Central Texas Food Bank press release, the organization’s mobile pantry program provided 2,655,276 pounds of food to 55,609 households last year to its 21-county service area.

De Maria said 25 percent of those households report that someone in their home has served in the US Armed Forces, in the military Reserve or National Guard, demonstrating a need for a mobile food pantry intended specifically for veterans in the area.

She said the nature of this program also illustrates the widespread nature of food insecurity. In fact, two-thirds of Central Texans said that in the past year, they had to choose between paying for food and paying bills, according to the Central Texas Food Bank website.

“Hunger continues to be a really serious problem in central Texas,” De Maria said. “Anything we can be doing to address that issue is critically important.”

For members of the Waco community that want to get involved, De Maria said the mobile food pantry at the VA can always use volunteers. She said this monthly volunteer opportunity is crucial to the program’s success because it doesn’t have many full-time staff members associated with it. Those interested can apply to volunteer on the Central Texas Food Bank website. They can also donate, as well as advocate the issue of hunger relief and food insecurity in the Waco community.

“Every dollar that is donated provides four meals,” De Maria said. “Because of our size, we are able to have that bigger impact.”