Senior centers are on the frontline to end local hunger

by Beverly Ferry

In Wabash, Indiana, the senior center is fully engaged in the war to end local hunger. Living Well Winchester Center’s food distribution is our senior center’s largest civic engagement program led by self-directed teams of volunteers.

Together, we fight the war on five fronts.

The center’s pantry, the Community Cupboard, is part of the network of community pantries affiliated with Feeding America. It is an income based, client choice pantry for all ages providing Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) commodities from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Eligibility is based on income guidelines. Locally, food is procured through donations; local grants; gardeners, hunters and farmers; and contracts with national chains for donated frozen meat, fresh produce, and shelf staple food. The pantry serves an average of 400 households monthly with at least one senior in 50% of the households. We also participated in the Voices for Food project with Purdue University. We opened our pantry to university observers conducting client surveys and inventory studies over a three-year period. Through this, we participated in a local food council, labeled food categories based on My Plate, and made the pantry more user friendly.

A second team packs and distributes monthly senior supplemental boxes funded through local grants. Our benefits volunteers use NCOA’s Access to Benefits tool, BenefitsCheckUp®, to determine eligibility and to be sure seniors are using all the benefit programs available to them, taking a holistic approach to the individual’s overall needs.

A third intergenerational team of 30 volunteers helps with a monthly drive thru distribution of food in front of the senior center. The regional food bank supplies a semi-truck of food which our volunteers put into people’s cars as they come through the line. During the 2008 recession, the lines were three miles long, serving 800 households in two hours.

According to Feeding America “food insecurity measures the conditions that can lead to hunger.” To address the root causes of food insecurity, a fourth team keeps the pantry stocked with new Scholastic books for all age ranges, funded through a local donor. Anyone using the Community Cupboard, including grandparents and non-custodial parents can select a book at each visit.

Our fifth effort is outside the senior center and is an outdoor little free pantry next to a free outdoor library.

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