The coronavirus pandemic has forced most food shelters across the country to switch to drive-thru service. This makes it more difficult for Veterans facing food insecurity to receive the food they need. To help reach these Veterans, VA and Feeding Northeast Florida teamed up with United Way of Northeast Florida and DoorDash to kick-start a pilot program to deliver nonperishable food to Veterans.
VA started the program by identifying Veterans in Feeding Northeast Florida’s eight-county service area who were in need of food delivery services and who participate in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program. VA medical centers and caregiver support groups identified additional Veterans in the area who were experiencing food insecurity. After identifying participants, DoorDash drivers began delivering packages of shelf-stable food to them each week, observing all COVID-19 safety measures. The program is currently delivering food to around 220 Veteran households each week with hopes to expand.
Navy Veteran Receives Support
Navy Veteran Celina Larkins lives in northeast Florida and participates in this pilot program. After leaving military service, Larkins received a PTSD diagnosis. She moved to Jacksonville, where she experienced a period of homelessness. She found out about the HUD-VASH program, which allowed her to move into an apartment because of her eligibility. With a limited monthly income and no automobile, Larkins could not reach the food shelters to get the food she needs. In September 2020, DoorDash began delivering her weekly meals.
“I ride the bus to the grocery store, and I can’t purchase the nonperishables that are too heavy to carry,” Larkins said. “The deliveries have helped me get the food that I need to have guaranteed meals.”
Jill Struble, Larkins’ VA dietitian for the past three years, helped connect Larkins with the pilot program.
“These Veterans have been through so much,” Struble said. “The first priority as a dietitian is food security. It is hard to educate anyone on how to eat healthy if they don’t have enough to get by. You don’t realize what one bag of food can do for someone’s life. It’s helped with nourishment not only for physical health but for mental health as well.”
With increased demand at food shelters nationwide due to COVID-19, it is more important than ever to make sure Veterans have access to the food they need to stay healthy. Thanks to the collaborative partnership between VA, DoorDash, United Way, and Feeding Northeast Florida, no Veteran in northeast Florida needs to go hungry.
- For more information on the HUD-VASH program, visit VA’s HUD-VASH program site.
- Check out VA’s Get Involved page to learn how you or your organization can help.
Shawn Liu is a Community Engagement Coordinator with the VHA National Homeless Programs Office.