Bringing Food Directly to Hungry Seniors

“The food assistance I get through the food mobile really helps me bridge the gap between my monthly checks, so I don’t run low on food,” says a senior resident at Trenton Towers in Dearborn Heights.

Trenton Towers is one of the communities that benefit from Gleaners’ Senior Mobile Food Pantry Program, which distributes healthy food for seniors on a monthly basis to four Metro Detroit communities where seniors already live and/or gather. It aims to address several challenges, such as helping seniors such as the resident at Trenton Towers who are on a fixed income.

With funding from Enterprise, Gleaners will expand its Senior Food Mobile Pantry program by five sites to serve a total of nine, encompassing four counties and seven cities.

Prior to September of 2016, Gleaners provided six senior mobiles as part of an 18-month Michigan Food Bank Access to Nutrition (MIFBAN) project to increase access to nutrition and fresh produce for vulnerable seniors. Since then, Gleaners has secured funding and began programming at four senior mobiles: Dearborn Heights Co-op in Dearborn Heights; Royal Oak Towers in Ferndale; Trenton Towers Co-op in Trenton; and Hartland Senior Center in Howell.

The mobile program does more than just provide sustenance – it draws seniors together who come to pick up food, providing a social outlet for seniors to interact with each other and engage in their living community. The open, welcoming environment of going to pick up food with peers takes away the stigma some seniors, who were used to living alone, may feel about going to an emergency food pantry. Additionally, the mobile sites are well suited for nutrition education because it’s an opportunity to help large groups of food-insecure seniors in a short period of time at specific locations each month.

But Gleaners faces a few challenges in serving this rapidly growing population. One, sourcing low-cost senior-appropriate food such as fresh produce is more expensive to procure. Second, mobility and transportation can be roadblocks in meeting the food and nutritional needs of vulnerable seniors. Third, demand for emergency and supplemental food for seniors is increasing. The proportion of older adults living in the area is expected to double between 2010 and 2030; by 2030, there will be more than 250,000 seniors living alone in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties. In Detroit, 11 percent of the population is seniors with a median household income of $27,000; this is an important new population for us to reach with healthy food.

With the support from Enterprise, Gleaners will be able to expand its reach and increase access to healthy food among low-income seniors in southeastern Michigan.

A statement from a past mobile pantry client sums it up: “To eat healthy is more expensive. It costs more to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. It’s cheaper to get a bag of chips or a processed snack. Having something like mobile pantries helps a great deal because it gets you back on track.”