The Area Agency on Aging (AAA) is determined to improve the nutrition of low income seniors in Ohio. "We want to allow our seniors to put more nutritious food in their grocery carts and on their tables," says Teresa Cook, Community Services Manager Ohio District 5 AAA, on their outreach partnership with grocers in Richland County, Ohio.
Ohio District 5 AAA's trained outreach volunteers are stationed at rural grocery stores in the County to discuss with potential applicants the benefits of SNAP, conduct confidential pre-screening for eligibility, and assist with completing applications for benefits. "We have many seniors who are eligible for benefits who aren't receiving them," explains Cook.
The AAA's approach to outreach has been successful in getting more seniors to apply for SNAP. One of the reasons that the AAA's partnership has been effective is because seniors regularly visit their local grocery stores and feel comfortable there. For these reasons, it is also more likely seniors will try new foods and consider new ways of preparing what they purchase. To that end, the grocers also provide space to accommodate nutritious cooking Demonstrations. The Demonstrations are conducted by chefs from local assisted living facilities who volunteer their time to this worthy cause.
Many potential applicants are familiar only with the minimum monthly benefit for SNAP. The myth that "you won't get much for your effort" is still too prevalent. To debunk the myth, Cook says, "I went shopping to see what $16 would buy, and I got bread, bananas, fresh carrots, cheese, tuna, eggs, potatoes, fresh green beans, and ice cream!"
By all accounts, the AAA's efforts have been appreciated. As one outreach worker said, "An 80-year-old senior, slight in stature, started to cry when the pre-screening tool told us she would probably be eligible for SNAP. She is struggling to pay medical bills so she had been cutting back on groceries. Thanks to SNAP, she will be able to buy more groceries. She held my hand and thanked me. I hugged her and said, "This is why we are here. There isn't a better feeling than that!"
AAA Ohio grocery store partners (left to right): Carla Tash and Sue Feeney of Cornell's IGA; Pat Hayes and Bernard Hollar of Stoodt's Market; Jerry Hitchman of Hitchman's Market