The VeggieRx program that prescribes healthy food to those in need is expanding this year to reach veterans across Central Oregon.
Starting in June, the fresh produce prescription program will partner with the Oregon Department of Veteran Affairs to serve veterans in Bend, Prineville and other local cities where they may be homebound.
Hannah Brzozowski, a registered dietitian and VeggieRx program director for the High Desert Food and Farm Alliance, said the state veterans organization is connecting the program with veterans to help them overcome poor access to fresh food and diet-related diseases such as diabetes.
“We are meeting a population we wouldn’t have the capacity to otherwise,” Brzozowski said.
Brzozowski and others with the program will prepare food kits full of produce from local farms and hand them out to 75 veterans once a week for 12 weeks over the summer.
The program will distribute food to veterans at St. Charles Prineville each Thursday, starting June 17, and at the Bend Veterans Affairs Community Based Outpatient Clinic every Wednesday, starting June 30.
The program will also serve homebound veterans across the region each Wednesday, starting June 16.
In addition to helping veterans, VeggieRx will still offer its traditional program this summer at the Bend Farmers Market.
Up to 50 people are welcome to sign up for the program and receive a food kit every Wednesday at the farmers market for 20 weeks, starting June 2. The kits include enough food for about five meals with each meal being half vegetables and the other half protein and grain or starch like pasta or potatoes. No meat is offered, only proteins such as beans or tofu.
Brzozowski said spots are still open for the general public and veterans to join VeggieRx. Those interested in participating can text ‘veggie’ to 797979 for the application link, or call Brzozowski at 541-610-6046.
Another new aspect of the program this year is a partnership with the St. Charles Heart and Lung Center in Bend to analyze participants’ blood sugar and body weight to see how the program is benefiting them.
Participants who are St. Charles Health System patients will be eligible for the health tracking.
“That’s really exciting because it integrates us more with the clinical world and we hope that it proves this program is really valuable,” Brzozowski said.
Since it launched in 2018, VeggieRx has served 430 participants. While this year will have fewer participants compared to previous years, it is reaching a broader audience with veterans and offering a more detailed experience with health tracking.
“Our numbers will actually be a little bit lower than last year,” Brzozowski said. “We are dividing to conquer those two specific goals of really understanding the biometric impact and also serving veterans.”
Each year, the program relies on grants and donations to operate and to buy produce from local farms. It takes about $100,000 per year to run the program.
VeggieRx recently applied for a $370,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant that would fund the program for the next three years.
Rather than having to piecemeal a budget together each year, the grant would provide stable funding and ensure VeggieRx can continue to grow and offer fresh meals in Central Oregon, Brzozowski said.
“It will be good to start to see the future a little bit,” Brzozowski said.