May is Older Americans Month and this guest post is the first in a series of posts highlighting the issue and solutions to hunger amongst our senior population.
Too many older adults in America face challenges that limit their ability to obtain or prepare food, including limited budgets, declining mobility and medical issues. A 2012 study conducted for the Greater Chicago Food Depository by the Social IMPACT Research Center found that more than 183,000 older adults in Cook County are at risk of hunger. The Greater Chicago Food Depository has developed several programs that address the needs of food-insecure older adults.
Through a generous grant from the Retirement Research Foundation, the Food Depository successfully launched choice-style food distributions at municipal senior centers. The Older Adult Choice Markets are choice-style distribution of both shelf-stable items and fresh produce gives clients the opportunity to receive food in a dignified manner by selecting the items that best suit their dietary restrictions and needs. The strategic location in municipal senior centers affords the greatest reach to clients and supports the programmatic design of markets serving as a social service hubs.
The Older Adult Choice Markets have become a central location for seniors to receive SNAP benefit assistance by the Food Depository's SNAP Outreach team, monthly cooking and nutrition demonstrations through partnerships with local universities, socialization and volunteer opportunities, and an entry point to other wellness and social services offered at the municipal senior centers.
Based on the successful model of the Older Adult Choice Markets, the Food Depository combines our existing produce van deliveries with our shelf-stable box deliveries, creating partial-choice markets located in senior residential buildings. By combining our box and produce distributions, the Food Depository is able to give clients the choice of receiving a box of shelf-stable food selected to meet the needs of an older adult diet in addition to the client's choice of fresh produce items. The mix of fresh produce and nutritionally-balanced shelf-stable food boxes are distributed once per month to supplement their nutrition.
The Older Adult Markets consistently demonstrate the benefits of a choice model food distribution and socialization to older adults' dignity and overall wellness. We've received positive feedback from program participants, site coordinators, and volunteers about the markets creating a social space for older adults to mingle in a group setting. Older Adults used the markets as a place to congregate, share recipe ideas, health tips, and connect through shared experience. In addition to the socialization benefit of the markets, volunteers of the program shared their appreciation for the chance to work at the markets. Many of our volunteers were also older adult participants and helped monitor the distribution of the program. The volunteers expressed that they enjoyed being a part of the markets and regaining a sense of responsibility lacking since they had retired.
Adam McGriffin is the Manager of AmeriCorps and Veteran Affairs with the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Previously, Adam served as the Food Depository's Older Adult Services Coordinator. Adam has more than four years of experience in non-profit encompassing program management, development and community outreach. Prior to joining the Food Depository, Adam worked as a Firefighter/Paramedic in Chicago and Suburban Cook County, IL. Adam graduated with Honors from Purdue University Calumet and is an AmeriCorps VISTA alum.
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