Phoenix area Veterans received sacks full of fresh produce thanks to a Shark Tank project and a host of sponsors, volunteers and VA staff.
Held five times a year at the Carl T. Hayden VA, Veggies-for-Veterans is a program started by Dr. Izabel Kozak, assistant chief of staff for Community Medicine, bringing together community partners to offer healthy food choices for Veterans.
“It’s a sight to see,” Kozak said. “The goal of our mobile-market is to help teach Veterans how to shop healthy and to encourage them to have healthy choices in their diet.”
Kozak learned of a Shark Tank project similar in design to Veggies-for-Veterans. Afterward, she led the implementation of the program at the Phoenix VAMC.
In addition to the five-times a year program at VA, the program delivers fresh produce monthly to Victory Place, a local 107-bed Veteran transitional housing facility.
Pictured above, Kozak gives Army Veteran Jerome Williams a bag of fresh produce.
Community partners provide healthy food choices for Veterans
Kozak devised three delivery methods for the program: in person, a drive-thru and home delivery.
Volunteers from Southwest Airlines, this month’s major program sponsor, and Peddler’s Sons wholesale grocer, prepared more than 300 produce bags. VA social workers delivered 60 of those to homebound Veterans.
The remaining 240-plus bags of produce were handed out by volunteers in VA or at a drive thru location on campus.
The primary community partner behind Veggies-for-Veterans, Gregory’s Fresh Market, a local 501-c3, is focused on providing healthy food options for area seniors and Veterans.
“A promise I made to myself as a little girl.”
Diana Gregory founded the program more than 11 years ago. She coordinates sponsors, volunteers and produce vendors to provide thousands of pounds of produce to area seniors and Veterans every month.
“I’m fulfilling a promise I made to myself as a little girl,” said Gregory. “We’re all about providing seniors and Veterans with nutritious foods to help combat nutrition insecurity.”
Fresh fruits and vegetables are an essential part of any healthy diet. A goal of the program is to help educate Veterans about diabetes and the role a healthy diet has in preventing or controlling diabetes.
Resources to help control or avoid diabetes
Nearly 25 percent of Veterans have diabetes and many more show signs of pre-diabetes. Many avoid diabetes through proper diet and exercise.
VA has many resources available for Veterans to help control or avoid diabetes. Examples are health cooking classes and one-on-one dietary counseling. Veterans should ask their primary care team about diabetes and the resources available to them.
The Phoenix VA Health Care System proudly serves more than 83,000 Veterans in central Arizona at the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center and nine community-based outpatient VA clinics.
Michael Cole is an interim public affairs officer and Navy Veteran. Photos by Darlene Seltmann, a public affairs specialist with the Phoenix VAMC and an Air Force Veteran.