Legionnaire hoping to help Indianapolis’ meals deserts

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Legionnaire hoping to bring assistance to Indianapolis 'food deserts'

Indiana Legionnaire Jeff Piper has been through his struggles since he left the U.S. Army decades ago – financially and psychologically. But he was pulled back up with the help of others, he said.

He has tried to repay that support and has served other veterans in a variety of ways over the years. And now he’s trying to extend that help to those in his community who don’t have access to fresh produce, meat, and other foods, and he’s bringing the foods straight to these people.

“Our mission is to bring healthy food to Marion County when needed,” said Piper, second vice commandant of the American Legion Post 34 in Indianapolis. “The target neighborhoods would be referred to as ‘food deserts’. And it’s so easy to find one. There are a couple of them. “

Piper has a history of supporting other veterans through activities like building birdhouses, fishing, and hunting. The organization he co-founded with veteran Marine Corps and local business owner Chuck Mack, Veterans Industries and Arts, helps veterans find employment and art therapy opportunities. This is where the vision behind the Cool Bus came about: an opportunity to help others and provide work for veterans.

The Cool Bus is a converted 40-foot Blue Bird school bus that was purchased by Piper and converted into a mobile grocery store approved for participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The bus brings fresh meat, products and other items to neighborhoods where residents would otherwise not have easy access to such food.

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

“The bus will go to these neighborhoods,” said Piper. “Our target market is those who will receive SNAP benefits. I see this as multifaceted: the community, access to food, nutrition.

“We don’t care where we get (the food) from. We will buy, transport and sell. We’re not giving it away. We’re here to survive because the two employees on the bus are veterans with different backgrounds.

Post 34 currently houses the bus and recently dedicated its autumn festival fundraiser to raise funds for the initiative. The day included food, a silent auction, and a range of local and regional musicians.

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

Piper hopes to add more American Legion posts to the Cool Bus initiative. “It’s a mission,” he said of the cool bus. “I have to do this mission.”

Further information on the Cool Bus program can be found here.