This morning, Vince Hall, CEO of Feeding San Diego, had the opportunity to testify before Congress on the issue of veteran hunger.

This hearing, hosted by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, examined United States Department of Agriculture and Veterans Affairs programs that provide nutrition assistance to nearly twenty million veterans. Specifically, the hearing focused on how veterans access resources, the impact of recent policy changes, and how Congress can more effectively support public and private partnerships to end hunger for veteran and active duty military families.

The first panel of witnesses included:

  • Dr. Thomas O’Toole, Senior Medical Advisor, Providence VAMC, Veterans Health Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Ms. Christine Going, MPA, RD, FACHE, Co-Chairperson, Veterans Heath Affairs Ensuring Veterans Food Security Workgroup, Veterans Health Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Ms. Pamilyn (Pam) Miller, Administrator, Food and Nutrition Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

The second panel of witnesses included:

  • Mr. Josh Protas, Vice President of Public Policy, Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger
  • Ms. Denise Hollywood, Chief Community & Programs Officer, Blue Star Families
  • Mr. Vince Hall, CEO, Feeding San Diego 

Chairman Levin opened the hearing by saying, “This committee is concerned that decisions are being made regarding veterans’ resources without thoroughly considering the impact on veterans… We have a responsibility to ensure that no veteran falls through the cracks and I look forward to hearing the testimony from our witnesses today.”

Vince Hall shared the following testimony: 

Chairman Levin, thank you so much. Ranking Member Bilirakis, and distinguished Members of the Committee, my name is Vince Hall and I am the CEO of Feeding San Diego, which is a leading hunger relief and food rescue organization in San Diego County. We are also a proud member of the Feeding America network.

For perspective, San Diego County is 45 hundred square miles, has a population of 3.4 million people, making it larger than 20 US states. It has one of the largest concentrations of veterans and military personnel in the world. Our Navy, Marine, Coast Guard and National Guard bases are a critical part of this nation’s national defense infrastructure. Our county is home to 143,000 active duty military, 260,000 military dependents, 243,000 veterans, and 583,000 family members of veterans.

Over 1.2 million San Diegans, 37% of our population, have direct ties to the military. It is a proud heritage, but it comes with solemn responsibilities.

Greatest among these responsibilities is to ensure that our veteran and military families have a dignified quality of life that honors their sacrifices. But all too often, despite the efforts of our government, it falls to organizations like Feeding San Diego and Feeding America to close the significant gap between what our heroes have and what they need to provide for their families.

I am proud of my organization but I take no pride in the fact that our country stations people in San Diego without paying them enough to live in San Diego. And I take no pride in seeing ever larger numbers of veterans lining up at our Feeding Heroes food pantries every year.

The good news is that Feeding San Diego has innovative food rescue approaches to delivering healthy, fresh and nutritious food that would otherwise go to waste. Last year we rescued 24 million pounds of food that was going to leave the food system and go to the waste system from stores, farms, manufacturers, and other sources. With our faith-based and charitable partners across the county, we distributed over 26 million meals worth of food, 97% of which was rescued food which would otherwise have gone to a landfill.

According to the USDA, 40% of the food in this country goes to waste everyday, which is more than enough food to solve hunger for every man, woman and child in need. Through our partnership with Feeding America, we rescue food in San Diego County from 200 Starbucks stores every night of the year, 260 grocery stores, 19 school district central kitchens, and dozens of other sources. We also rescue fresh produce from 225 farms and packing sheds up and down the state of California through our partnership with the California Association of Food Banks.

But we couldn’t do this by ourselves. We are proud to partner with 170 religious and charitable organizations across the county who work hand in hand with us to implement this innovative model.

Many of these organizations are specifically focused on the needs of veterans and active duty military families – groups like the USO, US for Warriors, Courage to Call, Military Outreach Ministries, and Support The Enlisted Project.

Our distributions reach families through a dignified farmer’s market-style model, which allows individuals to select the foods that are best for their family’s needs. Military families can access fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables without stigma or unnecessary bureaucracy through these pantries.

But as strong as our efforts are, there is much more to be done, and there are serious threats to our progress.

We are asking Congress to do several things which would help us to finally solve veteran and military family hunger. Foremost among these is to oppose cuts to the SNAP program, which threaten millions of Americans, including many of the veterans and military families that we serve.

Feeding America is 200 food banks strong, but for every one meal provided by our entire national network, the SNAP program provides nine meals. So even a relatively small cut to the SNAP program threatens to create a staggering increase in demand at America’s food banks – a demand that we simply cannot meet.

I also encourage Congress to include needed improvements in Child Nutrition Reauthorization which will help to increase food access for the children of veteran and military families.

I want to end my testimony by sharing Desiree’s story. Desiree participates in our Feeding Heroes program. Her husband is a communications officer in the Navy who makes just over $34,000 a year. She has four kids and her husband has been deployed for nearly eight months. She told us that she knew life as a military spouse was going to have its challenges. But she never expected that one of those challenges would be feeding her own children.

Thousands of military families face similar challenges.

We see too many kids standing in food lines while their parents are on the front lines.

It has been my honor to testify today on behalf of everyone we serve at Feeding San Diego, including Desiree and her family. Thank you.

Chairman Levin concluded the hearing by saying, “We set the highest expectations of our military to serve our country. And we need to set equally high expectations of ourselves to serve them. We shouldn’t be allowing a single veteran in need to go hungry, ever.”

Feeding San Diego is proud to have participated in such an important conversation and hopes the hearing will inspire Congress to take action.

To see all meeting documents, click here.

To support people facing hunger including veterans and military families, click here.