"Seniors in Bennington County face tremendous challenges when it comes to eating healthy meals," explained Susan Fox, executive director of Meals on Wheels. "Only a few corner stores have healthy affordable foods, and getting to a grocery store usually requires a car. That's hard for seniors who don't drive or have other mobility problems. In addition, many seniors don't understand that help is available, both in getting quality food, and in understanding that good food is a key to good health."
The program Fox and officials from Southwestern Vermont Medical Center have put together tackles these problems head-on. Together, the two organizations are developing a strategy for delivering nutrition education to 2500 residents in Bennington County over the age of 60. The program also calls for adding 100 new recipients to the daily meals program, and creating a system for health care providers to recommend the meals program to seniors who are living with a chronic condition or are returning home from a hospital stay.
"We recognize that good nutrition is important to keeping people healthy," explained Carolanne Marquis, executive director of the Southwestern Vermont Health Care Foundation. "As a health system, it's important for us to consider the entirety of what creates health. We are thrilled to be working with Meals on Wheels to make better nutrition available to the people we serve."
A key strategy will be a series of coupons that will allow eligible residents to try Meals on Wheels for free. The coupons will go to primary care offices where doctors or other caregivers can offer a Meals on Wheels trial for patients who might benefit but are wary of a service they don't know. The coupons also will be available for eligible patients when they go home from the hospital or its emergency department. Seniors can use the coupons for home delivery or the Meals on Wheels Bennington Café.
The team also plans to launch a public awareness campaign to help seniors and those who care for them learn more about nutrition and aging and the services that Meals on Wheels provides.
"Healthy people inhabit a healthy society," Marquis added. "SVHC is committed to working to make the Bennington area healthier by strengthening the very fabric of communities. By partnering with Meals on Wheels and the Vermont Community Foundation, we do just that, make our community healthier by strengthening the support for seniors."