Anti-hunger initiative focuses on supplementing senior citizens' diets with food packages
By Kelly Urban, The Tribune-Democrat
For low-income seniors, assistance is available to make sure they receive healthy and nutritious meals.
On Monday, representatives from Hunger-Free Pennsylvania, the largest provider of meals to older Pennsylvanians, were at St. Vincent de Paul Food For Families to review its Commodity Supplemental Food Program and ensure its compliance.
The program is the centerpiece of Hunger-Free Pennsylvania's efforts to improve the health of low-income seniors by supplementing their diets with food packages.
"These stops are the best way to support local programs in their fight against hunger, and learn more about ways we can help in their community," said Sheila Christopher, executive director of Hunger-Free Pennsylvania.
"With more than 1.7 million Pennsylvanians facing food insecurity, this road trip cuts through the bureaucracy to make this system personal and effective."
The statewide visits also allow Hunger-Free Pennsylvania leaders to check with local staff and recipients, share stories, ask questions, review important guidelines for nutrition education, civil rights compliance, food storage practices and financial management systems.
"We work hard to go and do a review of our 17 sites every two years," Christopher said.
"This is Cambria County's year to do it, and there are eight others sites that we will go to do reviews this summer. We also want to get the word out about the program. It's kind of the best-kept-secret in Pennsylvania, and we serve a little over 36,000 seniors a month."
More than 550 seniors in Cambria County receive Commodity Supplemental Food Program packages each month.
"It's a nutritionally balanced food package and it's sensitive to low sodium and sugar," Christopher said.
"The packages have recently been redone. They'll be coming out in November, and it will really focus more on proteins."
Packs contain a variety of foods such as cheese, cereal, shelf-stable milk, fruits and vegetables, juices, peanut butter, pasta and meats.
A person must be 60 years of age and meet certain income guidelines based on household size to qualify.
Those interested should call Food for Families at 814-539-7656, and they will be matched with the closest distribution center.
"We can make arrangements. If they can't get to the food, we can get it to them," Christopher said.
She said the program is important because it gives seniors peace of mind that they will have food on the table.
"A lot of times, seniors are making the decision whether to buy food or pay for medicine, so this just one less worry for them," Christopher said.
For more information on Hunger-Free Pennsylvania, visit www.hungerfreepa.org.
Kelly Urban is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. She can be reached at (814) 532-5073. Follow her on Twitter @KellyUrban25.