- Policy & Research
- About KHI
July 18, 2008
By Dave Ranney
KHI News Service
July 21, 2008
TOPEKA For years, senior citizens have had the option of having meals delivered to their homes or meeting their friends for lunch at the local senior center.
Now, a third option is in the works.
In Olathe, senior citizens anyone age 60 or older can sign up for the Choosing Healthy Appetizing Meal Plan Solutions for Seniors through the Johnson County Area Agency on Aging. They"ll be given debit cards good for meals at the café in the Hy-Vee grocery store at 18101 W 119th St.
"We"ve had great, positive feedback," said Nancy Tanquary, nutrition program manager at the Johnson County AAA.
About 165 seniors have signed up for the pilot program, which began in April.
A similar program began last week at the Downtown Café in Oskaloosa.
"We"ve issued cards to about 100 folks up there," said Jane Metzger, president of Meals on Wheels for Shawnee and Jefferson Counties. "It"ll be interesting to see how it pans out."
"We had 19 people the first day, 24 the second day and 21 the third day," said Carly Branch, a waitress at the Downtown Café. "A lot of them were already regular customers, so it hasn"t meant a lot of new business for us, but it"s really helped them out a lot."
Metzger oversees a similar program in Topeka that lets seniors receive meals at the Stormont-Vail hospital cafeteria.
So far, these are the only programs of their kind in the state. All three are funded by free-will donations and federal Older American Act grants.
Seniors are asked but not required to donate $2.50 toward the cost of each meal, actual cost of which is more than $5.
Because the meals are funded by federal grants, the programs are not allowed to require contributions.
The intent is to give seniors access to healthy meals not to turn a profit.
"This is brand new," Tanquary said. "We"re thinking outside the box."
is designed to give seniors more choice and flexibility. Instead of choosing from one or two menu items over the noon hour at a senior center, they can choose from four or five entrées anytime throughout the day, Monday through Friday.
But not everything on the menu is covered.
Entrees, Tanquary said, "have to be healthy choices," and are expected to include fruits, vegetable, bread, and meat or fish.
The three sites are not expected to reduce the number of lunches served at the congregate-meal sites already up and running in Olathe, Topeka and Oskaloosa.
"We haven"t seen any decrease in participation," Tanquary said. "This isn"t one site competing with another, it"s using choice and flexibility to reach more seniors."
In Oskaloosa, the congregate-meal site is within a low-income housing complex.
"Those at the site are residents of the housing complex, and attendance has been fairly low," said Jocelyn Lyons, executive director at the Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging. "So at this point we"re not expecting that to change, but we"ll have to see."
If the sites are successful, the concept is likely to spread throughout the state.
"I"m already getting calls from people who want us to launch other sites in Johnson County," Tanquary said. "It"s healthy food, it gets seniors out and about, it increases socialization. We think it"s a fabulous program."
But Rozie O"Brien, who runs the Hutchinson-based Friendship Meals program said she"s skeptical.
"It"ll probably work better in the urban areas than the rural areas," she said. "But in my 10-county area, I"m not sure we have that many restaurants that would meet all the nutritional components that would have to be met. We"ll have to see."
-Dave Ranney is a staff writer for KHI News Service, which specializes in coverage of health issues facing Kansans. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 785-233-5443, ext. 128.