Nutrition Assistance Program Helps Feed Needy Seniors

Woman Pushing Shopping CartSenior hunger remains a concern throughout the country, but efforts to aid local needy seniors through a program called “It’s a SNAP” have resulted in 159 seniors qualifying for federal benefits that will provide them with a total of $22,041 in food dollars each month.

“It’s a SNAP” is an outreach program focused on enrolling needy seniors in Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville in SNAP benefits (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps).

Supported by a one-year, $10,500 Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF) grant to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida (SHFB), the outreach program involves a partnership between SHFB and AARP. This is the first time SHFB has worked with AARP volunteers in Central Florida to dispel the many myths surrounding SNAP eligibility for seniors.

The AARP Foundation supplemented the WPHF grant by providing a grant to support a small stipend to help with transportation costs for volunteers who reach out to needy seniors with education and assistance. The AARP Foundation has embraced efforts across the country to raise awareness and create solutions to the growing problem of senior hunger. They report that over the past 10 years, the number of Americans age 50 and up who are at risk for hunger every day has increased by a staggering 79 percent.

Through the WPHF grant, special educational materials were created to demonstrate how SNAP benefits can extend an older adult’s food budget. The materials included a local telephone number to call to get help with completing an application. Trained outreach specialists from SHFB collect critical information and documentation, complete, and submit applications.

Community outreach has been critical to the program’s success. Educational materials have been distributed among SHFB’s many partner agencies in Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville. Volunteers have provided information at health fairs and other community events where AARP has a presence. They also educated individuals with whom they regularly interact, such as within faith communities and other social circles.

“For older adults who are food insecure, these benefits provide the opportunity to purchase food at local grocery stores. For many, it helps defray other household expenses like rent or mortgage payments, utilities, and medical expenses including prescription drugs. We know sacrificing food purchases in lieu of other expenses can have an adverse effect on health. SNAP benefits offer much needed relief for older adults in need of nutrition assistance” said Diana Silvey, WPHF Program Director.

To better understand the issue of hunger among older adults, AARP is supporting a Florida-wide survey. The results—which probably won’t be available until summer—will be used to guide future efforts to curb hunger.