Legionnaire hoping to bring assistance to Indianapolis 'food deserts'
(Facebook photo)

Legionnaire hoping to bring assistance to Indianapolis 'food deserts'

Indiana Legionnaire Jeff Piper has gone through his struggles since leaving the U.S. Army decades ago – financially and psychologically. But he’s been pulled back up, he said, through support from others.

He’s tried to repay that support, assisting other veterans in a variety of ways over the years. And now he’s trying to expand that assistance to those in his community unable to access fresh produce, meat and other food, bringing the food directly to those people.

“Our mission is provide healthy food access to Marion County where needed,” said Piper, second vice commander at American Legion Post 34 in Indianapolis. “The target neighborhoods would be called the ‘food deserts.’ And it’s so easy to find one. There’s a bunch of them.”

Piper has a history of assisting other veterans through activities such as building birdhouses, fishing and hunting. The organization he co-founded with Marine Corps veteran and local business owner Chuck Mack, Veterans Industries and Arts, helps veterans find opportunities in employment and arts therapy. That’s where the vision behind the Cool Bus originated: an opportunity to assist others while providing employment to veterans.

The Cool Bus is a converted 40-foot long Blue Bird school bus purchased by Piper and converted into a mobile grocery store approved to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The bus will bring fresh meat, produce and other items into neighborhoods where the residents wouldn’t otherwise have easy access to such food.

The bus will be staffed by veterans, while some of the food will be sourced from veterans that are a part of the Farmer Veteran Coalition.

“The bus will go to those neighborhoods,” Piper said. “Our target market are those people who receive SNAP benefits. I look at this as being multi-faceted: The community, food access, nutrition.

“We don’t care where we source (the food) from. We will buy, transport and sell. We don’t give it away. We’re out here to sustain, because the two employees on the bus are veterans coming out of different issues.

Post 34 is currently housing the bus and recently dedicated its fall festival fundraiser to collect donations for the initiative. The day included food, a silent auction, and a lineup of local and regional musicians.

“(The post is) just so supportive in whatever I come up with,” Piper said. “My whole thing is veteran and community. And I think the relationship there needs to be taught at a young age.”

Piper hopes to get other American Legion posts involved in the Cool Bus initiative. “It’s a mission,” he said of the Cool Bus. “I have to complete this mission.”

For more info about the Cool Bus program, click here.