The term “food insecure” is not a familiar part of our culture’s vocabulary, but it is a regular part of the conversation at the Ventura County Area Agency on Aging (VCAAA).
The team of dietitians that are part of the VCAAA’s Senior Nutrition Program focused their time on developing class curriculum, recipes, and other resources for healthy eating on a budget long before the COVID-19 crisis began – all while recognizing that the populations served often face food insecurity, meaning they have limited or no access to regular meals, much less healthy meals.
With a special focus on the nutritional needs of older adults in particular, the team is dedicated to identifying gaps in daily intake and addressing those needs with resources made available through the various elements of the Senior Nutrition Program. Prior to COVID-19, home delivered meals were offered to older adults who are unable to leave their home, while congregate meal services were offered through 11 community meal sites throughout Ventura County with no cost requirement other than a suggested donation of $3 per meal. But the COVID-19 crisis exacerbated the gaps in services and resources for many communities throughout the country, with few populations hit harder than older adults.
The VCAAA immediately identified the fact that stay-at-home orders and restaurant closures meant the people who depended on VCAAA’s home delivered and congregate meal services, and even those who had never been part of the program, were going to need access to food more than ever before. As a result, the VCAAA expanded its existing pantry to include a much larger COVID-19 Food Pantry that brought two or more weeks-worth of food safely to the homes of some of Ventura County’s most vulnerable residents. Partnerships with dozens of locally owned restaurants and World Central Kitchen have offered daily deliveries of high-quality restaurant meals. In total, the VCAAA has served nearly 3.6 million meals since March 2020.
While the demand for food and meal resources increased, so did the need for the educational components of the Senior Nutrition Program. In response, the VCAAA transitioned the once in-person education-based nutrition classes and individualized counseling to the virtual platform via Zoom and telephone. Aimed at arming older adults with the information and resources needed to eat healthy on a budget, classes and individualized nutrition counseling focus on all topics of concern, including high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and more. Recipes developed and shared by VCAAA dietitians are created with a fixed budget in mind, and are affordable to people of all income levels.
Classes currently offered each month include EatFresh.org and Eat Smart, Live Strong. There is also a “bonus” class offered monthly that focuses on a unique topic. For April, that class will focus on “How to Build a Healthy Plate.”
All classes and nutritional counseling are open to people 60 and older and are offered at no cost to participants. To learn more about current class offerings, visit www.vcaaa.org. For more information, or to register for a class, call (805) 477-7300 or e-mail Christal.Greenlaw@ventura.org.