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Summary

Good nutrition is a key factor for older adults to maintain well-being and an independent, healthy lifestyle, and in recovering from an illness or an injury. Reasonably priced, wholesome foods are not always accessible to older adults because of the lack of transportation, health problems and disabilities, and the lack of food stores within close proximity for shopping. Food insecurity is influenced by multiple factors and impacts a person’s health, wellbeing, and quality of life. A 2016 report places Georgia ninth in the nation for the prevalence of food insecurity among people ages 60 and older. The number of older adults in Georgia who currently face the threat of hunger is more than 300,000. The Oconee County Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Senior Sense program provided approximately 1,500 pounds of fresh produce to twenty-one (21) low-income seniors.

Situation

Good nutrition is a key factor for older adults to maintain well-being and an independent, healthy lifestyle, and in recovering from an illness or an injury. Reasonably priced, wholesome foods are not always accessible to older adults because of the lack of transportation, health problems and disabilities, and the lack of food stores within close proximity for shopping. Food insecurity is influenced by multiple factors and impacts a person’s health, wellbeing, and quality of life. A 2016 report places Georgia ninth in the nation for the prevalence of food insecurity among people ages 60 and older. The number of older adults in Georgia who currently face the threat of hunger is more than 300,000. Food insecurity increases negative health outcomes by contributing to and exacerbating disease conditions, and increases medical costs and hospitalizations. This issue is worthy of attention considering 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease and 68% have at least two. A person who is not eating a balanced diet with the recommended amounts of calories, protein and essential micronutrients is at a greater risk of malnutrition, especially if the person has a chronic disease. According to the 2018 State of Senior Hunger in America report, seniors are more likely to experience food insecurity if they are racial/ethnic minorities, divorced/separated/never married, living with grandchildren, disabled, unemployed, and/or female. Participants in the Oconee County Family and Consumer Sciences Extension’s Senior Sense program are 41% minorities, 55% divorced, 27% live with grandchildren, 41% have a disability, and 55% are female. Currently in 2020, as the nation confronts the global COVID-19 pandemic, seniors are facing unprecedented health and food access challenges. Food-insecure seniors are more likely to develop nutrition-related health problems, which is particularly problematic given the unique health, financial, and nutritional challenges that can come with aging. Furthermore, social distancing is key to limiting exposure to COVID-19, and is important for individuals of all ages. However, minimizing person-to-person contact is of paramount importance for adults age 65 and older, older adults of color, and older adults with underlying medical conditions who are vulnerable at disproportionate rates to contracting and experiencing severe illness from COVID-19.

Response

The Athens Area Master Gardeners received the Plant-a-Row for the Hungry (PAR) grant. PAR is part of a national movement that began in 1995 by Garden Communicators International, (formerly the Garden Writers Association), “a communications program encouraging individual gardeners, companies and community gardens to donate fresh vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers to food agencies and/or soup kitchens to help feed those in need.” This annual endeavor provides fresh produce for the Oconee County Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS) Extension Senior Sense program, formally Action Incorporated’s Senior Grocery Bag program whose funding was cut in 2018. Oconee County FACS Agent worked with her Master FACS Volunteer to continue supporting the program through community donations. The Senior Sense program is comprised of low-income seniors who attend monthly nutrition workshops. Typically, seniors visit the Bishop Community Center each week and peruse the bounty of fresh produce and pack a bag with their choice of vegetables and then once a month attend a session on how to prepare the produce in healthier, low cost ways. However, this year had to be different due to social distancing requirements based on COVID-19. The FACS Agent worked with Oconee County Master FACS volunteers and the Master Gardeners to provide a drive-thru produce distribution for the seniors each week, so that the food could still be distributed while keeping everyone safe.

Impact

Approximately 13 of the 21 households participated on a weekly basis by coming to the Bishop Community Center to receive a pre-packed bag of produce that was placed in their trunks or back seats. In addition to the weekly produce distribution, local churches and civic clubs provide boxes of non-perishable items, laundry baskets with cleaning supplies, and/or bags of personal items for each senior. All 21 households participate in the monthly distribution. Since May 2020 when the drive thru distribution began, approximately 1,500 pounds of produce valued at $4,875 has been provided from the Plant-A-Row garden. Produce includes tomatoes, green onions, bell peppers, banana peppers, jalapeño peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, okra, Irish potatoes, cucumbers, crowder peas, eggplant, sugar snap peas, green beans, sweet potatoes and herbs. A total of $3,150 has been received through the monthly donations. Based on USDA Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program data, it is estimated that program participants save approximately $20 each month by receiving fresh produce through the Senior Sense program. Master FACS volunteers logged 103 hours between May and October 2020 through 17 produce distributions. According to Independent Sector, the current estimated national value of each volunteer hour is $27.20. Therefore, these volunteers’ work is valued at approximately $2,800.

State Issue

Health & Nutrition

Details

  • Year: 2020
  • Geographic Scope: County
  • County: Oconee
  • Location: J. Phil Campbell Sr. Research and Education Center, Watkinsville
  • Program Areas:
    • Family and Consumer Sciences

Author

  • Aaron, Leigh Anne

Collaborator(s)

Non-CAES Collaborator(s)

  • Athens Area Master Gardeners
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