Executive Director’s Comments: April 2024

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In my 2023’s year-end comments I outlined goals for Farmer Veteran Coalition for this year. One of those goals was to continue to build a coalition of military food bank providers that could help FVC create an innovative solution to combat food insecurity in the military communities surrounding bases throughout the country.

With the financial support of Archer Daniel Midland (ADM), the Farmer Veteran Coalition was afforded the staff time to develop a pilot program with our partners: Feeding America, USO, Armed Services YMCA, and MarketMaker.

Active-duty military members, Veterans, and their families experience food insecurity at staggering numbers. Twenty-four percent of military families and 11 percent of Veterans are food-insecure, meaning 2.5 million American service personnel and their family members are hungry. According to Feeding America, 53 million Americans visited food banks in the United States in 2021.

 In 2023 the Armed Services YMCA distributed more than an estimated 3.2 million pounds of food to more than 100,000 active-duty families including 19,458 soldiers and their families serving at Fort Cavazos near our Waco, Texas headquarters. Fort Cavazos, formally Fort Hood near Killeen, is home to a service population of more than 500,000 service members, Veterans, and family members, and will be the focus of our initial pilot efforts.

Although it is critically important to provide food in the short term, the long-term goal has always been to assist in lifting our military communities out of hunger permanently. Food insecurity in the military is a complex problem with many obstacles; thus, the solution needed to be innovative and multi-layered. For example, junior enlisted service members earn an average of $26,000 a year, making it a necessity for young families to have a second income.

Unfortunately, due to the nature of military life, frequent moves, unpredictable schedules, deployments, expensive or non-existent childcare, and a lack of social support systems, military spouses encounter a crippling 21 percent unemployment rate. That makes economic stability nearly impossible to achieve and leaves far too many food-insecure.

The Armed Services YMCA and Farmer Veterans Coalition have developed a program that will work toward moving our military families and Veterans out of this cycle of hunger. Some of the basic components are:

  • Building a community culinary makerspace that would provide opportunities for active-duty military, Veterans, and their families to establish food businesses. Culinary makers would be required to complete a food and kitchen safety certification program and take part in an entrepreneurial training program to learn marketing business management and sales.
  • Providing opportunities for participating makers to sell their products to ASYMCA food pantries, local farmers markets, and local businesses.
  • Purchasing fresh produce, meats, dairy products, and other value-added food products from Veteran-owned farms to be distributed at the Armed Services YMCA’s Killeen’s Five Star Food Market.

It is our hope that after this pilot, that Armed Services YMCA and Farmer Veteran Coalition can leverage lessons learned to scale this program to strategic locations across the Armed Services YMCA’s nationwide network.

This program forms a long-term solution at the intersection of skill training, workforce development, food support, and economic stabilization within the military community. It addresses hunger in these populations but also impacts military spouse unemployment, which sits at SIX times the national average.

I will keep you updated on our process as we continue our work. Your thoughts and prayers would be appreciated.

Enjoy Earth Day, Spring, and planting everyone!


Jeanette Lombardo