by Steven M. Cliche and Michael Bielawski
According to Mary Hayden, the Director of Development and Communications for the Central Vermont Council On Aging (CVCOA), feeding Vermont’s seniors in need represents a variety of unique challenges. “The difficulty is you have someone who is 85 or older who isn’t able to travel to a meal or prepare a meal for themselves.” Hayden’s further concern is that this increased vulnerability to hunger is compounded by the depression that comes from being isolated and immobile.
The weight of social isolation and loneliness is heavy on seniors, with increased mortality, severe health issues, and increased mental illness all being issues linked to those who are confined at home. The CVCOA, which is the largest funding source for senior meal sites in central Vermont, is taking on these challenges by ensuring that they reach out to seniors with their Meals On Wheels program.
“We’ve delivered over 155,000 meals over the past two years in Washington county alone,” says Hayden, who mentions that these numbers have come at a time when the council is facing a rising funding deficit of $20,000 for the past two fiscal years. “We have noticed that the meal sites are asking for more and more food, and we’re doing our best to keep up.”
The Montpelier Senior Activity Center is one such site, which features what it calls the FEAST program. Communitay meals are served Tuesdays and Fridays from noon to 1 pm, with an option to take the meal ‘to go.’ The program also ensures that up to seven meals a week are delivered to seniors who are unable to travel or leave their homes.
In July of this year the city reached an agreement to transition the reins of the program from the Montpelier Food Shelf – Just Basics to the Senior Activity Center. FEAST program manager Jessica Sanderson sees this as a win for everyone involved. “It was a drain on (the food shelf’s) very limited resources,” she said, adding that, “it was time for the city to take it back so we can better concentrate on our seniors.”
Since then she notes, “We’ve seen a need increase of about 5% across the board.” She adds that the need seems to be associated with advancing ages of the baby boomer generation. Currently Vermont is fourth in the nation on the list of states with a population of 65 and older. With this number expected to rise exponentially in the coming years, the concern for how to feed those who can’t feed themselves is growing as well.
While the current number of seniors in central Vermont who are unable to reach out is unknown, Sanderson estimates that FEAST delivers to 45–50 people in the Montpelier and Berlin areas. FEAST hosts an all-volunteer staff of approximately 75 people, who help with everything from setting up for daily meals to delivering them to those in need. Of the staff, Sanderson praises, “They make magic. They make it happen.”
If you are a senior or a senior caregiver in need, contact the Central Vermont Council on Aging’s Senior Helpline at 1-800-642-5119 or visit their website at cvcoa.org for more information. You can also contact the FEAST office directly at 802-262-6288.