Butler Eagle: Programs seek to feed hungry seniors
Alliance for Nonprofit Resources combats food insecurity
Out of the 3,826 Butler County seniors who qualify to receive a monthly nutritious food package, only 300 of them take advantage of the opportunity.
“There are pockets in our community that people don't realize of folks (who) are struggling,” said Janine Kennedy, director of programs for the Alliance for Nonprofit Resources.
Food insecurity is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.
When Friedman's Freshmarkets, a grocery chain, closed in 2018, it created a food desert for parts of Butler and Saxonburg. Recently, Viola's Market closed in Evans City.
“There are folks who don't have vehicles for transportation, who don't have the money to put gas in their car to get to the food bank. They may be 10 miles out from a grocery store, which doesn't sound like a long drive, but if I couldn't get here, there's no way to get food,” Kennedy said. “It's an incredibly needed program because hunger insecurity is out there and it's real.”
A year after the Alliance for Nonprofit Resources, which provides administrative services to agencies of all sizes, took over the Commodity Supplemental Food Program from Butler County, it received its first review Monday from Hunger-Free Pennsylvania, the largest provider of meals to older Pennsylvanians.
“We are very pleased with where the alliance is at so far, and their concept of the program and how they're managing it,” said Sheila Christopher, Hunger-Free Pennsylvania's executive director.
Hunger-Free Pennsylvania officials visited the alliance's warehouse, at 161 Whippo Ave., to inspect the program and ensure compliance as part of its Federal Regulation Management Review. The visit also enabled leaders to check in with local staff and recipients, share stories, ask questions and review guidelines for nutrition education, civil rights compliance, food storage practices and financial management systems.
As part of its anti-hunger initiative, Hunger-Free Pennsylvania's statewide road show is showcasing the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which has been a centerpiece of efforts to improve the health of low-income elderly people by supplementing their diets with nutritious food packages.
Statewide, 36,200 seniors use the program, while more than 3,800 seniors are on the waiting list at any given time.
More than 300 Butler County seniors receive packages of nutritious U.S. Department of Agriculture foods each month.
“It's the best kept secret, not only in Butler County or in Pennsylvania, but in the United States,” Christopher said. “This is a great program for seniors and the opportunities are endless.”
In July 2018, the Alliance for Nonprofit Resources was subcontracted by the county to manage the Butler County Food Bank, Kennedy said, which has been a learning experience.
Christopher said she was always pleased with how the county ran the program before the transition.
Seniors, ages 60 and older, have to apply to receive the package, Kennedy said.
The annual income requirement is $1,354 a month. A majority of seniors, more than 50 percent, designate $800 or less a month, she said.
Slots are allocated for 302 seniors, she said. However, if there is a need, more slots could be made available.
Last month, 281 boxes were packed for distribution, Kennedy said.
One group that made a commitment to send five volunteers from its local and corporate office in Butler monthly to assist with the packing is Armstrong Cable, said Chip Rowan, coordinator for the Breaking Bread initiative at Armstrong Cable in Connellsville.
The companywide initiative that collects food, provides assistance to area food pantries and brings awareness to hunger started in 2010 at 12 offices, Rowan said.
Seniors and children are its two main focuses, Rowan said, adding that the Butler volunteer opportunities hit that mark.
“Hunger is a problem in all the communities we serve,” Rowan said. “We are happy to help.”
Monthly, the Alliance for Nonprofit Resources receives a shipment of products from Hunger-Free Pennsylvania with packing guidelines for each box, which contain two cereals; two juices; two shelf stable milks; four vegetables; one meat product; two pounds of American, low-fat cheese; two fruits, two pastas; a jar of peanut butter; and bag of powdered milk.
Also in the box is a nutritional fact sheet and recipe for an item.
When pallets of state and federal goods are made for each food cupboard in the area, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program boxes are packed alongside those goods for pickup. Of the 26 partner agencies in Butler County, about 18 food cupboards participate in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
In November, the food package will change and see an increase of items, Christopher said. For example, four vegetable items will increase to eight vegetables.
Soup is a new addition, said Thomas Dubs, Hunger-Free Pennsylvania's assistant executive director.
One juice will be cut to add three cans of fruits, while the powdered milk will leave the food package, he said.
“It matches more of what the USDA says you should be eating,” Dubs said.
Three plant-based proteins are another add-on.
“Beans are a really great source of protein for especially seniors. Seniors need a lot of protein, but it's one of the things they don't necessarily eat,” Christopher said. “It helps with muscles that are getting weak in old age.”
Currently, Alliance for Nonprofit Resources officials are in search of a larger space with a bigger freezer and cooler, compared to the current 3,000-square-foot warehouse, Kennedy said.
“We could be accepting so much more if we had the capacity,” she said.
Despite grocery store closures, agencies are stepping up to the plate, Kennedy said, adding that a food pantry was made to combat food insecurity in Cranberry Township.
“This program helps, definitely helps,” she said. “This is just another tool we have to help serve people.”
Commodity Supplemental Food Program
WHAT: The Commodity Supplemental Food Program improves the health of low-income senior citizens by supplementing their diets with nutritious food packages.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Seniors, ages 60 and older, can call the Alliance for Nonprofit Resources at 724-431-3795.
TO VOLUNTEER: Boxes are packed on the second Thursday of every month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Volunteers have to go through an application process and clearance. Call Janine Kennedy with the Alliance for Community Resources at 724-431-3795.
The State of Senior Hunger in America
The State of Senior Hunger in America annual report series documents the prevalence of food insecurity among the senior population, ages 60 and older, in the United States.
The most recent report, released in 2019 using 2017 data, found that 5.5 million seniors, or 7.7 percent of the senior population, were food insecure in 2017.
The rate of food insecurity among seniors is lower in recent years, but remains significantly higher than it was in 2007.
The number of seniors who are food insecure is more than double what it was in 2001.
In Pennsylvania, 5.7 percent of seniors are food insecure.
SOURCE: Feeding America
A county profile compiled by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank estimates that 19,280 of Butler County’s 187,100 residents face food insecurity on a daily basis. Food insecurity as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.
SOURCE: Butler Eagle archive