By Staff Reports
(Victor Valley)– Over the next three years, the San Bernardino County Department of Aging and Adult Services (DAAS) will provide more than 2 million meals to tens of thousands of seniors with the help of nonprofit partners such as the Crest Forest Senior Citizens Club and the Family Service Association.
A little more than half of those meals will be served at 37 sites (mostly senior centers) around the county while the others will be delivered directly to seniors who have difficulty leaving their homes.
“Our goal is to help our seniors live independently at home for as long as possible,” said Rhonda Neill, a Staff Analyst II at DAAS. “A lot of our seniors don’t have regular access to nutritious meals.”
San Bernardino County began offering this service to seniors in 1978 thanks to federal funds provided through the Older Americans Act. Since federal funding fluctuates from year to year, the program has had its ups and downs—at times having to reduce meal service and at other times increasing. This year, for example, the program received about $350,000 more to boost the number of meals served.
Meals must provide seniors with 1/3 of their daily nutritional needs. Registered dietitians regularly examine menus and meals to ensure they comply with the requirement.
The meal sites often feature informational presentations about various services seniors may benefit from such as legal aid or help navigating Medicare. Seniors also play games like bingo and bunko and get a chance to participate in exercise activities as well.
“Keeping our seniors active is also important to their health and well being,” Rhonda said.
Penny Shubnell, who has organized the senior meal program in Crestline for 10 years, said the socializing that occurs is also critical for seniors.
“I’m finding more and more seniors who live alone, and sometimes this is the only time they go out,” she said.
Meanwhile, home-delivered meals provide an opportunity to check up on homebound seniors since the meals must be accepted in person by the recipient.
Meal locations are open to anyone 60 years old or older, but most patrons are in their 70s or older.
Rhonda said getting younger seniors to take advantage of the meal program has been a challenge “They don’t really think of themselves as seniors, and they don’t want to go to senior centers,” she said.
It’s important to get younger seniors in the door because funding is based on participation.
“If we can’t get the younger ones to come in, we are going to have a gap,” Penny said.
Penny said she includes events such as art and fashion shows to bring in the “younger” crowd.
“When they turn 60, they don’t want to go to a senior lunch because they think that’s for old people, until they get there and realize it’s fun,” she said.
A small confidential donation is requested; however, no eligible individuals are denied meals because of their inability to pay. On average, meal sites collect about $3 per meal.
The County’s nonprofit partners also accept volunteer help. The meal site in the City of Montclair has a volunteer who is 100 years old.
“The more volunteers we have the more we can contain our costs,” Rhonda said.
Anyone interested in volunteering at a senior meal site can contact Rhonda at (909) 891-3930. Volunteers are required to undergo a criminal background check and a food handler permit may be required depending on the duties. The program covers these costs for volunteers.
Visit http://hss.sbcounty.gov/daas/ for more information about the Senior Nutrition Program and other services provided by DAAS.