Part 3b of 4: Flexibility Is Key to Addressing the Needs of the Elderly

Whitney Lingle, Executive Director, Senior Adult Activities Center of Montgomery County

Food insecurity can affect anyone; it transcends demographics and plays a role in the lives of many. Similarly, those who are aging are an inherently intersectional population. Therefore, services designed for older adults must be flexible and multi-faceted enough for the varied needs of those we serve. 

I started my career in food access working with local food banks, after-school meal programs, urban gardens, and soup kitchens. Seeing food access from multiple angles allowed me to see that multiple solutions were a better approach, because this allowed people to be served in a way that worked for them. As my career progressed and I started working at an agency that serves older adults, I realized that the need for various modes of delivery remained important to program success.

The Senior Adult Activities Center of Montgomery County (SAAC) serves adults 50 years of age and older through a combination of food assistance, social services, arts, and health and wellness programs. We are the largest Meals on Wheels provider in Montgomery County and serve nearly 350 individuals each day. Those receiving MOW are the most vulnerable of our service population, with limitations preventing them from preparing and procuring food. The daily wellness check coupled with the delivery of two nutritious meals each day saves lives and helps prevent hospitalizations.

Although our MOW program improves lives, it is not always enough. When food insecurity affects several generations, things are more complicated. Montco SAAC offers various forms of food assistance including daily congregate lunches in Ambler and Norristown, nutrition education, assistance with signing up for SNAP benefits, senior Commodity Supplemental Food Program boxes, a small food pantry, produce distribution, and food distribution with Rolling Harvest food rescue. 

There have been times when a person receiving MOW takes care of their grandchildren and ends up giving the kids food delivered for the older adult. Food assistance is not effective when diluted. My staff has worked to address this type of issue by being ready to refer those who need assistance beyond what we offer to other agencies. This is especially important when people ask for help for their children and grandchildren. Hunger and poverty quickly become intergenerational, which makes referrals to programs offering summer meals and other forms of food assistance for all ages all the more critical.

Also critical is creating programs with dignity for those we serve. It is all too easy to create prescriptive, condescending programs aimed to alleviate hunger, help older adults live well, or reduce the numbers of those living in poverty. To effectively help, we must always prioritize the dignity and agency of those receiving assistance and avoid making decisions in a vacuum. Weavers Way’s broad reach into the community allows their Food Justice Committee to create and provide assistance that is both helpful and dignified. I can think of nothing more important for area seniors and their families.