Whatever your age, your daily food choices can make an important difference in your health and in how you look and feel. Research has shown that eating well may reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, bone loss, some kinds of cancer and anemia. If you already have one or more of these chronic diseases, eating well and being physically active may help you better manage them.

As we age, it is natural to have less of an appetite and even more important to eat a well-planned, balanced assortment of healthy food. Unfortunately, for many older adults there are barriers to getting quality food. If you or an older adult you know is limited by income or lack of transportation, there are a number of community food programs that offer help.

Our Community Kitchen is a free-will donation breakfast meal offered Tuesday and Thursday mornings at Ascension Episcopal Church 8-10 a.m. This program features locally produced ingredients including many certified organic foods. Anyone, regardless of income, may attend and join a wide range of community members in this welcoming setting. A second site at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Bayport offers lunch on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Additional community sites are being planned, offering places for older adults to enjoy nutritious meals while staying connected.

Fare for All Express sells packages of fruit, vegetables and frozen meats for up to 40 percent off retail prices. This discounted shopping program is open to everyone regardless of income and is managed as a cooperative food buying program so that the more people who participate, the better. Packages range in price from $10 to $30. For more information, contact United Way of Washington County-East at BuildBetterLives.org or 651-439-3838.
For older adults unable to travel, Mobile Choice is a new program being piloted at Valley Outreach to reach seniors and others who are unable to access the food shelf due to age, health or disability. The food is delivered for free to your home if you live in the Stillwater Area School District and you meet income guidelines (for a single-person household $23,341 or less per year; or $31,461 or less for a two-person household). Each month, Mobile Choice participants are contacted to create a shopping list that fits their dietary needs and preferences. Valley Outreach has a wide selection of non-perishable items in addition to fresh produce, deli items, milk, eggs, margarine and frozen meat. If you are in need of this service, or know someone who may be, contact Valley Outreach at 651-430-2739. Enrollment can be done over the phone, and the call will take about 10 minutes.

If you think our aging community wouldn’t need these services, think again: a recent Hunger Free meal gap study estimated that in the Stillwater Area School District there are more than 1,500 seniors living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guideline, the eligibility criteria for the Valley Outreach food shelf and Mobile Choice program.

Many of these seniors would also be eligible for Senior Nutrition Access Program (SNAP), where the average monthly benefit for a senior living alone is $119 per month. For many low income seniors, the average annual SNAP benefit of $1,428 can mean the difference between having food and going without. On average, only two of every five eligible seniors are enrolled in SNAP. SNAP benefits are spent at community grocery stores and markets, using a debit card so the transaction is discrete for anyone who may be concerned about using this benefit.

In addition to the food shelf and Mobile Choice programs, the resource advising program at Valley Outreach assists clients in accessing SNAP, Fare for All, community meals and more. Seniors who need to make the most of their limited income should turn to these community food programs, designed to help us eat well as we age well.

By Sally Anderson