Addressing Veteran Food Insecurity in the North Country
March 15, 2021
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, more New Yorkers are facing food insecurity than at any other time in recent history.
Veterans are twice as likely to be food insecure compared with the non-veteran population. Despite veterans making up 5% of the nation’s population, 20% of households served by food pantries and meal programs have a veteran family member. To address food insecurity among veterans during the pandemic, New York State launched a pilot program with the meal kit producer HelloFresh, focused on delivering free meal kits to veterans and military families in New York City. The program has since been replicated in the North Country’s Clinton, Franklin, and Essex counties. In 2021, NYHealth awarded the Joint Council for Economic Opportunity of Clinton and Franklin Counties (JCEO) a grant to ensure strong program operations and an adequate supply of healthy foods for hundreds of veteran families in the North Country. NYHealth is also supporting a complementary initiative with Black Veterans for Social Justice in the Bronx.
Under this grant, JCEO connected food-insecure veterans in the North Country to free, nutritious food each week. It conducted outreach to veterans and family members in Clinton, Essex, and Franklin counties who may have been facing food insecurity and related challenges. JCEO procured the necessary equipment needed to store, box, and distribute large amounts of fresh, nutritious food, which was purchased from local food banks and vendors at a subsidized rate. It coordinated local volunteers to assemble food boxes and ensured that safe, contactless pickup locations were staffed and ready to distribute boxes to veterans each week in the three counties. Additionally, JCEO integrated screening, referral, and enrollment services to connect veterans to longer-term and more sustainable resources that address food insecurity, including the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and Veterans Affairs (VA)-related services. JCEO also coordinated with the New York State Division of Veterans’ Services and partner organizations to refer veterans to other health and human services, including housing, legal, VA health care, employment, and education support.