Pop-up pantries

Mary Wicoff/Commercial-NewsValli Jones, left, and Kristi Weir, both employees at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System, get packages of fruit ready at the pop-up pantry at Cannon Place apartments on the VA campus.

DANVILLE — The veteran grinned with delight when a volunteer placed a small strawberry shortcake into his box. Another, proclaiming his love of peppers, requested a “rainbow” of vegetables.

All requests were granted with warm smiles during the Eastern Illinois Foodbank pop-up pantry at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System.

Not only did the veterans — between 100 and 125 — get a box full of food, but the volunteers said they benefitted, as well.

“I felt so good,” Cindy Liffick, secretary to the nurse executive at the VA, said about the first time she volunteered. “It made me feel wonderful about what we do.”

More than 15 volunteers gathered Tuesday to hand out a variety of food to the veterans in front of the Cannon Place apartment complex on the VA campus.

Pop-up food pantries are single-day, mobile food pantry distributions that are staffed almost entirely by volunteers.

The pop-up pantry for veterans started last fall with a one-year $75,000 grant from the Yahoo Employee Foundation. The first event at the VA was in November at the Protestant chapel, and switched to Cannon Place earlier this year.

Teresa Brown, partnership manager with Eastern Illinois Foodbank, said Tuesday that food will be delivered to veterans on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month. The location at the VA may change, and pantries also may be set up at the VA’s outpatient clinics in other towns.

Flyers announcing the locations will be sent to veterans, and they also may check the foodbank’s Facebook page or get information through the VA’s medical care providers or social workers.

To be eligible, veterans must present proof of veteran status and meet the income eligibility guidelines. They don’t need to bring any other documents.

With March being National Nutrition Month, VA dietician Cristi Ambroso was on hand Tuesday to share handouts with tips on food safety, cooking pasta, stretching meals, and a basic casserole recipe.

Veterans also could get a free toothbrush, or sign up for a free smoke alarm through the Red Cross.

Brown also noted that the emphasis at the pantries is on nutrition and being able to make a complete meal. For example, veterans could get a jar of Grey Poupon, a loaf of bread, lettuce, tomatoes, Gatorade, chicken slices or hot dogs, a can of Pringles and a dessert.

Other choices include a variety of fresh and canned fruits and vegetables, eggs, apple juice, rice, canned chicken and tuna, salad dressing, shelf-stable milk, granola bars, canned ravioli, cakes, donuts, cupcakes and more.

“We try to make it a complete meal,” Brown said. “We make sure there’s plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables; high-protein, low-sodium foods; and treats.”

VOLUNTEERS A HELP

Kristen Bosch, vice president of development for the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, said between 25 and 35 volunteers are needed to set up and tear down the site, help individuals through the line, select food and sometimes carry items for them through the line.

Brown said the volunteers come from the Yahoo Foundation, Eastern Illinois Foodbank, VA staff and Danville Area Community College students. Sometimes, veterans will help out, as well.

“It’s especially nice to see veterans serving veterans,” Brown said.

Eastern Illinois Foodbank has 1,400 active volunteers in its system.

Staci Walker, a member of AMBUCS, said she heard about the volunteer opportunity through the club. Volunteering also is part of her role as the 2016 Today’s American Woman Mrs.

Walker, volunteering for the first time at the pantry, said it was good to see the veterans receiving fresh food, especially in light of this being National Nutrition Month.

Betty Heggemeier of Champaign has been a volunteer for several years, but this was her third time doing the VA pantries.

“It’s the joy of serving God and serving the veterans,” she said, explaining why she volunteers.

Bosch said the pop-up pantries have been going well, and a lot of people are being helped.

The distributions are designed to increase access to nutritious food to veterans who are struggling to make ends meet. About 10,000 pounds of food are shared with 100-150 veteran households.

According to a press release from the foodbank, the pop-up food pantry program was created to address the issue of food insecurity among veteran households. Rates of homelessness and unemployment are disproportionate from civilian rates and the VA Illiana Health Care System serves nearly 1,000 homeless veterans every year.

The collaboration between the Eastern Illinois Foodbank and Danville VA has provided access to emergency food and wrap-around services, such as medical, housing and mental health treatment and outreach, creating a one-stop shop for veterans to receive assistance.

Cannon Place apartment complex also has its own pantry for residents only, while the pop-up pantries are open to all eligible veterans.

Maximum monthly income per eligible household is: one person, $1,832; two, $2,470; three, $3,108; four, $3,746; five, $4,385; six, $5,023; seven, $5,663; and eight, $6,304. For each additional household member, add $641.

FYI

For information on how to volunteer or donate, go to http://www.eifoodbank.org/

There’s also a site at https://www.facebook.com/eifoodbank/

If you or your organization would like to volunteer at a pop-up food pantry, email the foodbank at volunteer@eifoodbank.org or call 328-3663.

SCHEDULE

The next pop-up pantries at the Danville VA will be from 10-11:30 a.m. April 25 and May 23 at the Cannon Place apartments and May 9 at a location to be announced.

A pantry for veterans will be from 10-11:30 a.m. April 11 at the Salvation Army in Mattoon.

There also will be a mobile food pantry for the general public (income guidelines apply) from 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday at Ward Park Pavilion, 106 E. Pilot, Ridge Farm.

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