Food pantry gets nutrition information to the elderly

Food pantry gets nutrition information to the elderly

Michael Fluharty

Food Pantry Gets Nutrition Information To the Elderly

When the 1983 Making Food Dollars Count booklet first came out, many groups working with low-income people focused on getting the recipes and meal plans to young families.

As a member of a planning committee responsible for organizing a June 1984 workshop in Cincinnati, Mildred Whitehead realized that emphasizing the young excluded another group–the elderly.

It’s easy to understand why Whitehead is so sensitive to the needs of the elderly. She is executive director and founder of the Open Door Food Pantry in Hamilton, Ohio, a nonprofit organization that provides USDA surplus commodities and other free food to area residents in need of help. Each month, nearly 500 people come to the pantry for food, and many of them are elderly.

“More than 60 percent of the people who come in here are elderly,’ says Whitehead, who volunteers 30 hours or more a week to making the food pantry work. Many of the people Whitehead helps have spent a lifetime in the area. They’ve seen the good times when manufacturing was booming, but are now struggling because it’s not.

“It’s not easy to make ends meet, especially if you’re old and don’t have much money,’ says Whitehead. “Even with our help, most of the people who come in here just get by from month to month. When I heard about the Making Food Dollars Count booklet, K knew it was something that people who come to the pantry could use.’

Booklets given out with food

Following the Cincinnati workshop, Whitehead arranged for a supply of the Making Food Dollars Count booklets to be sent to the pantry by FNS’ Cincinnati field office.

To heighten interest, Whitehead and her staff of volunteers told people coming to the pantry that by reading and using the booklet’s ideas, they could save money on food.

“We believe that in addition to giving people the food they need, we should also teach them how to live better for less,’ Whitehead says. “And the elderly appreciate it even more than the younger people who come here.

“I can’t say to what extent they use the information, but many times I’ve been told how good some of the recipes are, so I know they’re at least reading the booklets.’

Luncheon offers special opportunity

To give elderly people a chance to taste a meal made with the recipes, Whitehead and Kay Stewart, a member of the food pantry’s advisory board, had a catered luncheon last fall.

The event was held in Hamilton at Belle Towers, a senior citizens’ high-rise apartment, where Stewart is resident manager. All apartment residents and other interested senior citizens were invited. More than 60 people attended.

At the luncheon, Peggy Simmons, a county extension agent who specializes in home economics, talked about how eating nutritious and well-balanced meals is important in maintaining good health, especially for older people.

“The people were really receptive,’ says Simmons, “especially when I began talking about health.’

Although Simmons’ job regularly brings her into contact with the food pantry and its people, working with them on the luncheon was something new.

“The food really made it a success,’ she says. “We featured meatballs and rice [a Making Food Dollars Count recipe], and they all loved it. I got more comments on how good the food was.

“One good thing about the recipes,’ says Simmons, a 17-year veteran with the Extension Service, “is that in most cases the ingredients are items that are normally kept in most households. People don’t have to spend their money on exotic items which might not be used again.

“You cant’t expect to change a lifetime pattern of eating with a luncheon and a teaching session,’ says Simmons. “But we’ve made progress, nevertheless. One lady was diabetic and wanted to know how she could reduce her food budget.

“As it turns out, for years she had been buying only single-serving portions of food, not realizing that it was more economical to buy larger sizes and simply remove what she needed for the day’s meal.

“This was some advice this lady could take with her. It was one way in which we made a difference. And who knows how many other people are being helped by similar ideas which we take for granted most people know.’

Other activities being planned

Whitehead, Simmons, and Stewart have further plans for nutrition education activities.

Whitehead plans to continue including Making Food Dollars Count booklets with the food she gives out at the pantry. Simmons and Stewart plan to use menus and recipes from the booklet in a monthly newsletter produced for the high-rise residents. And, talk of another luncheon, perhaps this time for a different group of elderly people, has also been mentioned.

For more information, contact:

Peggy Simmons County Extension Agent 1810 Princeton Rd. P. O. Box 958 Hamilton, Ohio 45012 Telephone: (513) 867-5925

Mildred Whitehead, Director Open Door Food Pantry 2257 Pleasant Avenue Hamilton, Ohio 45015 Telephone: (513) 868-3276

Photo: Left: Mildred Whitehead, executive director and founder of the Open Door Pantry, is pictured here with some of the food the pantry gives out. Nearly 500 people come to the pantry each month.

Photo: Kay Stewart (above) and Peggy Simmons (right) have been helping Mildred Whitehead (opposite page) get nutrition information to the elderly. Stewart is resident manager of Belle Towers, a senior citizens’ high rise apartment. Simmons is a county extension agent who specializes in home economics.

COPYRIGHT 1985 U.S. Government Printing Office

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning