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Food Outreach expands to help veterans with uncontrolled diabetes

For more than three decades, Food Outreach has worked to ensure that people living with cancer or HIV don’t have to battle hunger along with a life-threatening illness. The St. Louis nonprofit currently serves almost 2,000 clients in the region, providing two medically tailored meals per day to help them maximize their energy and overall quality of life. It also offers nutritional support.

This fall, the organization is expanding its services to include U.S. military veterans living with uncontrolled diabetes.

“We are trying to reach out to as many veterans as possible and veteran-facing organizations to try to connect with people who have served our country,” Julie Lock, the executive director of Food Outreach, told St. Louis on the Air.

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She noted that while diabetes affects about 10% of the general American population, about 25% of veterans have the disease. And in Missouri as a whole, CDC statistics show the overall incidence of diabetes steadily increasing over the past 30 years, from 4% to 10%.

“In our conversations with one of our case navigators at the Veterans Administration, we realized that because of how diabetes impacts veterans locally, in the state and nationally, we really wanted to look at this,” Lock said.

A downturn in the total number of Food Outreach clients during the pandemic provided the opening.

“Part of the good news [about the fewer numbers] is that organizations like the Urban League, Operation Food Search [and] St. Louis Area Food Bank have provided a great deal of food interventions for many people in need,” Lock explained.

Even so, Lock noted, all of Food Outreach’s clients living with HIV and cancer are immunocompromised, which made the nonprofit’s work essential in the COVID-19 crisis.

“It was very, very important for many of our clients just to stay home, and some of them did not want our home delivery or our food boxes, our 30-day nutrition boxes,” Lock said.

About a dozen local veterans are now receiving Food Outreach support, and Lock said the organization hopes to continue growing the pilot program. Eligibility requirements include having an A1C (blood sugar level) of 8 or greater at time of intake and living at or below 300% of the 2021 Federal Poverty Level for an individual.

The focus of the medically tailored meals is on protein, fruits and vegetables and the right kinds of carbohydrates.

“As in all chronic disease, nutrition plays an integral and vital part of literally what we swallow,” Lock said.

Lock also touched on how Food Outreach’s efforts fit into the larger landscape of efforts to address food insecurity — and said the needs remain great.

“Unfortunately, especially in the city and traveling north all the way to Florissant, Blackjack, areas like this, Franklin [and] Jefferson County, Madison, there’s complicated food-insecurity problems.”

Lock encouraged those looking for ways to help to learn about local food programs connected to schools and religious organizations, as well as to consider supporting Food Outreach, the St. Louis Area Foodbank, Operation Food Search and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

Copyright 2021 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.