It is common knowledge that we need healthy food and proper nutrition to survive and thrive, but in our society food is often seen as much more than simply a way to sustain life. For generations food has been used as a way to bring people together. We gather to share a meal to celebrate holidays, birthdays, promotions, and sometimes just to see one another. But for many older Americans, age forces lifestyle changes that can limit their ability to be part of the larger community and share these social bonds. Beyond the social impact, these lifestyle changes can also make having access to healthy, nutritious food a challenge.
Getting around isn’t as easy as it once was. A simple trip to the store may no longer be so simple, or even an option at all. Social circles and activities can dwindle, health issues may become more prevalent, and finances may be more limited. For many low-income, older adults maintaining their health and nutritional needs is a real challenge. The barriers they face lead to inadequate nutrition and social isolation.
Knowing senior citizens in the community face these issues of loneliness and lack of proper nutrition, Catholic Charities’ Southern Maryland Food Bank’s Senior Snack Sak program provides healthy, nutritious food and a renewed fellowship to the community for low-income senior citizens living in Charles and St. Mary’s counties. The program, established in 2015, provides 181 snack saks each month to help these individuals improve not only their nutrition, but also their overall well-being. Each sak contains around 18 items to supplement meals. The items are specifically chosen based on the unique nutritional needs of older adults.
“We provide high-fiber, low-sodium snacks,” said Brenda DiCarlo, Director of the Southern Maryland Food Bank. “When possible we aim to have sugar-free items, as well as fresh produce. These types of items help our clients maintain a healthy nutritional balance without breaking their budget.”
The Senior Snack Sak program is about more than just providing healthy snacks, it is also an opportunity for staff and volunteers from the food bank to engage with these valued community members. Each sak is hand delivered and warmly received.
“We know about their grandkids, we know all the pets, we share birthday and Christmas cards,” added DiCarlo. “For us it’s about being good members of the community and reminding our neighbors that we haven’t forgotten about them.”
By bringing food distribution into senior communities, the Southern Maryland Food Bank is removing the barriers of mobility and access to needed food that make obtaining and sustaining a healthy level of nutrition difficult for many. The program also helps to alleviate the stress and loneliness many older adults can feel. With family members and other loved ones moving away or passing on, and decreased mobility many can feel abandoned and alone. Having a monthly visit from a familiar, friendly face can make a huge difference.
The Southern Maryland Food Bank works closely with the University of Maryland to provide nutrition education materials and tip sheets to snack sak recipients.
Due to the success of the program the Southern Maryland Food Bank has secured funding to open a third location this summer, allowing them to serve even more seniors in the community.
For more information visit the Southern Maryland Food Bank.
Saks can include: fig newtons, juice, fruit cups, peanut butter, granola bars, crackers, oatmeal, cereal, and tuna. They also include birthday cards, get well cards, nutritional information, event flyers, and more.