AmeriCorps VISTA Charrica Green
Since last August, the Southeast Texas Food Bank has had a rare commodity within its walls.
Charrica Green of Memphis, Tenn. spent the last year serving our region as an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) worker assigned to the Food Bank through AmeriCorps’ relationship with Feeding Texas, the state body that coordinates the Texas network of food banks.
VISTA workers tend to be young, energetic, community-service minded people, many of whom are freshly graduated from college and using the experience to offer community service while developing themselves professionally.
VISTA workers are infrequently placed in Southeast Texas but the Feeding Texas project is trying to energize new programming at food banks around the state through a three year grant to help food banks collaborate with local partners on health improvement or financial education projects in their community.
Green will complete her tour of service in Beaumont on Aug, 14, the same day that her successor Amanda Lueke, a VISTA worker coming to Beaumont from San Diego, Calif. will begin a year of service at the Southeast Texas Food Bank to carry on the project initiated under Green.
During Green’s year of service, the Food Bank began implementing a customized healthy food box distribution targeted to those with diabetes.
“I have had an amazing year as an AmeriCorps VISTA at the Southeast Texas Food Bank,” said Green. “I was able to establish partnerships with leaders in the fight against diabetes in Southeast Texas, as well as plan and implement a diabetes program to help our clients who are living with food related chronic diseases.”
This initiative took its origins from a Hunger in America study conducted in 2014 that showed approximately one-third of those who receive hunger relief through partner agencies of the Southeast Texas Food Bank have at least one member of their household affected by diabetes.
“Food banks rely on so many partner agencies to be distribution channels for food, that there are many ready-made relationships in place that can be leveraged for the benefit of the community,” said Dan Maher, Executive Director of the Southeast Texas Food Bank. “We can be a natural pipeline for bringing community resources together to solve problems.”
Green has developed a process for substituting low sodium and sugar free alternatives for some of the standard foods packed in food boxes distributed by the Food Bank, so that low-income clients identified during health screenings as needing food to help them control or prevent diabetes can have immediate access to the food they need.
She has worked closely with St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Beaumont which has served in recent months as a pilot site for special food distributions and health screenings conducted by local health providers. The church also worked with the Food Bank in April to host a diabetes awareness health fair and food distribution attended by more than 100 people.
Lueke will now be tasked with growing the diabetes initiative beyond the pilot phase. The focus of Lueke’s year of service will be identifying and cultivating additional partner agencies capable of serving as health screening and healthy food box distribution sites, as well as encouraging more health providers to periodically offer health screening services at social service agencies.
The Food Bank will also need to increase its inventory of the requisite healthy foods for food boxes, most of which will have to be acquired by purchase, so Lueke will also be tasked with writing grants and generating new fundraising opportunities for the project.
“The VISTA program provides a real blessing to us by placing dedicated, nominal cost labor here for a specialized project,” said Maher. “Eventually though, for this project to be sustainable and ultimately successful in reducing communal health care costs, it is going to require broader community support. Generating that support will be Amanda’s top priority.”