Veggies-for-Veteranen affords wholesome meals choices for veterans and neighborhood companions

Phoenix area veterans received bags of fresh produce thanks to a Shark Tank project and a variety of sponsors, volunteers, and VA staff.

Veggies-for-Veterans takes place five times a year at the Carl T. Hayden VA and is a program led by Dr. Izabel Kozak, Assistant Chief of Staff for Community Medicine, brings together community partners to provide healthy foods to veterans.

“It’s a sight,” said Kozak. “The goal of our mobile market is to help veterans shop healthily and encourage them to eat healthily.”

Kozak found out about a Shark Tank project that is similar in design to the Veggies-for-Veterans. She then led the implementation of the program at Phoenix VAMC.

Volunteers from Southwest Airlines and Gregory’s Fresh Market, social workers and staff from Phoenix VA come together to prepare and deliver more than 300 bags of fresh fruits and vegetables to veterans of the area.

In addition to the five-yearly program in VA, the program delivers fresh produce monthly to Victory Place, a local 107-bed veterans transitional shelter.

In the picture above, Kozak is giving Army veteran Jerome Williams a bag of fresh produce.

Community partners provide veterans with healthy food choices

Kozak has developed three delivery methods for the program: personal, drive-thru, and home delivery.

Volunteers from Southwest Airlines, the main sponsor of the program this month, and Peddler’s Sons grocery wholesalers prepared more than 300 bags. VA social workers delivered 60 of these to homebound veterans.

The remaining 240+ bags of products were distributed 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 delivering healthy food options to local seniors and veterans.

“A promise I made to myself as a little girl.”

Diana Gregory started the program more than 11 years ago. She coordinates sponsors, volunteers, and grocery vendors to deliver thousands of pounds of products to senior citizens and veterans in the area each month.

“I’m keeping a promise I made when I was a little girl,” said Gregory. “Our aim is to provide seniors and veterans with nutritious food to combat food insecurity.”

Fresh fruits and vegetables are an essential part of any healthy diet. One goal of the program is to educate veterans about diabetes and the role of healthy eating in preventing or controlling diabetes.

Resources to Control or Prevent Diabetes

Nearly 25 percent of veterans have diabetes, and many more show signs of prediabetes. Many avoid diabetes through proper diet and exercise.

VA has many resources available to veterans to help control or prevent diabetes. Examples are health cooking courses and individual nutritional advice. Veterans should ask their family doctor 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 VA outpatient clinics.

Michael Cole is an interim public affairs officer and a Navy veteran. Photos by Darlene Seltmann, Phoenix VAMC Public Affairs Specialist and Air Force Veteran.

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