Green River Area Development District (GRADD) received a prestigious award Tuesday in Omaha, Neb. for their role in the Reducing Food Waste and Helping Homebound Seniors program in Owensboro. The award was presented to GRADD Executive Director Jiten Shah at the 2019 NARC (National Association of Regional Councils) Regional Leadership and Excellence Awards ceremony.
GRADD was one of seven agencies from across the country awarded for outstanding leadership programs in their respective communities. GRADD was presented with the Rural Achievement Award for their success with the Reducing Food Waste and Helping Homebound Seniors program — a service that provides frozen meals to 60-90 Owensboro seniors each week.
The frozen food program was initiated by Owensboro Health, who partnered with the Senior Community Center of Owensboro-Daviess County and GRADD to deliver packaged, frozen meals to those in GRADD’s Home Delivery Meal program, all in effort to contribute toward independent living of seniors.
Senior Community Center Executive Director Dana Peveler said all of the food provided through this program comes from Owensboro Health Regional Hospital (OHRH) or Canteen Service Company.
“This is food that never makes it out of the cafeteria, and it’s never served to anyone beforehand,” Peveler said. “The hospital usually puts the leftover food in cooler and then we have volunteers pick it up on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays. We package and freeze it afterward.”
Peveler said the program has received excellent feedback from the community, the participants and even the state. In fact, state officials have been so impressed with Owensboro’s success in the Reducing Food Waste and Helping Homebound Seniors program, they are hoping to implement a similar program at the state level.
While Peveler hopes the state is able to find funding for its program, all of the food delivered in Owensboro is funded by Owensboro Health.
“We wrote a foundation grant for the program and the hospital funded it,” Peveler said. “If Canteen has any extra, the Department of Aging and Independent Living allows us to use that as well.”
Owensboro Health Director of Community Engagement Debbie Zuerner Johnson said the only additional cost to the program was the funding of some needed equipment. Initially beginning the program by serving meals in aluminum trays, the decision to switch to microwavable packaging was made soon thereafter.
“The recipients never complained, and we probably wouldn’t have known if not for the drivers, who are incredibly perceptive to the needs of the people they care for,” Zuerner Johnson said. “The Senior Community Center of Owensboro-Daviess County wrote a grant for microwave-safe packaging, and that grant was funded by the Owensboro Health Community Health Investments grant program.”
According to Zuerner Johnson, many seniors in the community suffer from both poverty and lack of food, two factors that have a direct impact on an individual’s health outcomes.
“It’s made a huge difference,” Peveler said of the program’s impact on seniors. “The clients look forward to it — some of them depend on it,” Peveler said.
The frozen meal deliveries inspire and encourage the seniors who participate to be more independent because, Peveler said. Not only do they cook the meals themselves, but the allocation of donated food gives them the ability to use their money for other necessities.
“Every single meal they don’t have to pay for is more money they can use to pay for medications they might have forfeited,” she said. “They can pay for services they need, or they can use the money to put in a wheelchair ramp at their home so they can come and go more easily. The benefits of this program have far outweighed any drawbacks or kinks we’ve experienced along the way.”
Zuerner Johnson said nobody in the program does this for the awards and recognition. However, being recognized for this program has caused the idea to take off in other areas, and she said she is both grateful and humbled by that.
“We do this because we have the means to help, a spirit of true collaboration and the willingness to work together to meet a community need, senior hunger and food insecurity,” she said. “The Kentucky Department of Aging and Independent Living has written a federal grant to support the replication of this project and we are honored and humbled at the possibility that our work can lead to something that helps so many others throughout the Commonwealth and beyond.”