Susan Brumm is the Inpatient Diabetes Nurse Practitioner at the VA Medical Center in Cincinnati. A little over a year ago the VA and the Department of Defense started to include food insecurity among their criteria to screen patients. Having observed the devastating effect of food insecurity on diabetic patients, Susan was eager to come up with some form of assistance. She joined a Listserv hosted by Dr. Thomas O’Toole, Director of the National Homeless Patient Aligned Care Team (PACT) Initiative for the Department of Veterans Affair, regularly posting questions about food insecurity among veterans. One day, quite unexpectedly, she got a message saying that the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington DC was considering the possibility of opening pantries in different VA Medical Centers around the country to better serve their patients. Interested hospitals were required to apply immediately. Not wanting to wait another minute, Susan filled out an application. A few weeks later, as a result of a collaborative agreement between the Freestore Foodbank, the VA Medical Center and Feeding America, the VA Medical Center mobile pantry in Cincinnati came into being.

Throughout its first year, the mobile pantry was organized in the hospital auditorium once a month. Patients who were identified as needing help by the medical staff were invited to visit the pantry. The goal was to reach as many individuals as possible, provide nutrition to those who truly needed it and raise awareness about healthy eating.

A year later, the pantry has done extraordinary work providing nutritious food to hundreds of veterans and their families. “The results have been dramatic,” comments Susan. “Many of our patients face poverty and they get in the habit of skipping meals as they get to the end of the month in order to save money. This really affects their health. The mobile pantry has initiated conversations about nutrition and made our patients more aware about the connection between health and food.” At the end of the first year one thing is clear: having a pantry that is located within the hospital is a great idea and there are hundreds of patients who need assistance.

With this realization, the VA Medical Center is moving to a new model. In July 2018, the mobile pantry will transition to a permanent pantry that will be housed in a room close to the primary care clinic within the hospital. It will carry non-perishable foods such as rice, pasta, canned veggies, canned meat, etc. and will be open every day of the week. The food will still be provided by the Freestore Foodbank and the pantry will continue to be supported by Feeding America. “The greatest advantage to this approach is that the pantry will be open daily and we will be able to meet the need of patients immediately at the time of their medical appointment,” says Linda Larison, Clinical Dietitian at the VA Medical Center.

Joseph Baldwin is a patient of the VA Medical Center who is thankful for the pantry. Joseph was drafted into the United States Army in 1966 when he was 18 years old. He served as a security guard in Saigon during the Vietnam War. Upon returning home to Cincinnati, he worked for several years in the Maintenance Department at General Electric. In 1990 Joseph had an automobile accident which made it difficult for him to work and put him on disability. Joseph’s wife has chronic arthritis and is wheelchair bound. He also has custody of two young grandchildren. By the end of the month Joseph very often does not have enough money to buy food or pay for gas. When he visited the VA Diabetes Clinic a few weeks ago, his nurse noticed that he had lost weight, and that his blood pressure was high. “It was because of lack of food and high stress,” he says. The nurse referred him to the VA mobile pantry to get food. “I am so thankful to have this option,” Joseph comments. “It gives me extraordinary comfort to know that there is a place I can go to get food and that my family will never be hungry again.” “The fact that they will not have to worry about food as much will bring peace of mind to their already stressful lives and I view that as a huge benefit,”says Shari Altum, Psychologist and Health Behavior Coordinator at the VA Medical Center who has been closely involved in the lives of the patients who visit the pantry.

Veterans have been through experiences in life that most of us cannot even comprehend. Many of them still carry physical and psychological burdens as remnants of their experiences on the battlefield. Despite the huge sacrifices they have made, many veterans and their families also struggle with food insecurity, poverty and homelessness. The Freestore Foodbank is proud to partner with the V.A. Medical Center in Cincinnati and we are honored to be able to provide assistance to veterans in the tristate region.