Senior Living

SSA and ALIVE! Working Together To Reduce Senior Food Insecurity

Volunteer Nancy Clayton-Ault preparing groceries for delivery. (Photos/graphics: SSA)

By Marshall Hespe, Director of Nutrition Programs

Alexandria, VA – According to the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, “The number of older adults experiencing food insecurity—the lack of enough affordable, nutritious food to live a healthy, active lifestyle—has doubled since the turn of the century. In 2017, 7.9% of all US households with at least one adult aged 65 years and older experienced food insecurity, and 8.6% of households composed of an adult aged 65 years and older living alone were food insecure. With the number of adults aged 65 and older expected to rise from 49.2 million in 2016 to more than 73 million by 2030, food insecurity will only increase.”

Senior Services of Alexandria (SSA) works every day to reduce food insecurity for older adults in our community. “Food insecurity is a reality for many of Alexandria’s older adults,” said Mary Lee Anderson, Executive Director of Senior Services of Alexandria. “We are fortunate to live in such a giving community, and proud that we can collaborate with ALIVE! to help seniors get the nutrition they need.”

How do these organizations work together, you may ask? SSA’s Groceries-to-Go program matches volunteers with seniors who find shopping at the grocery store physically challenging. Volunteers take orders over the phone, with no delivery fee or minimum order. SSA accepts payment through the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), allowing seniors at all income levels to participate in the Groceries-to-Go program.

Wilder Escobedo SSA’s Spanish Outreach Coordinator talking to a resident about services.

During the COVID pandemic, SNAP benefits were increased, which benefited many older adults. However, when the public health emergency ended, SNAP benefits were reduced to much lower levels just as inflation dramatically increased the cost of groceries. SSA contacted ALIVE! to see how we might address this challenge.

ALIVE! is an interfaith nonprofit basic needs organization in the City of Alexandria. It works to ensure that all residents get the food they need at ALIVE!’s monthly food distribution sites, food hubs, and pop-up events.

In March 2023, SSA and ALIVE! implemented a plan to address the challenge our SNAP-eligible seniors faced. ALIVE! created a list of grocery staples from which clients choose items they need each month. SSA volunteers pick up the supplies from ALIVE’s food warehouse and deliver them to the seniors on the first Thursday of each month.

There is no charge to the seniors for these groceries, and they can now use their SNAP benefits to fill in the gaps! Budgeting for food on a fixed income is more challenging than ever. This program creates breathing room and flexibility to get the necessities and the food they want.

“One lesson learned during the pandemic was how a connected community can have a big impact,” said Jenn Ayers, Executive Director of ALIVE!. “As economic stressors rise and resources are reduced, banding together helps organizations like SSA and ALIVE! reach people who need help effectively and efficiently. Our work is to make access to the basics easier and to help lift people up. ALIVE! and SSA share this vision and collaborate to make best use of the generosity of our community to help others.”

This partnership goes beyond just providing food. For over a year, SSA’s outreach team has been a weekly presence at ALIVE!’s food hubs in the West End and now Del Ray, sharing information about SSA programs and City services for older adults. ALIVE!’s Service Navigators at the food hubs are trained SSA Senior Ambassadors and receive weekly updates on resources for older adults.

These outreach efforts are part of SSA’s broader outreach to the Spanish-speaking community in Alexandria to make information accessible and find people where they are. SSA also partners with Casa Chirilagua for a monthly Bingo event where older adults can gather for a fun Bingo game in Spanish and receive information or assistance. With the help of community nonprofits like ALIVE!, SSA can reach even more seniors in the city.

To learn more about Senior Services of Alexandria, visit seniorservicesalex.org. To learn more about ALIVE! visit alive-inc.org. To learn more about Alexandria’s Hunger Free Initiative, visit Home | Hunger Free Alexandria. For the City of Alexandria’s Food Resource Guide, visit Food Assistance | City of Alexandria, VA (alexandriava.gov).

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