New pilot program will be first of its kind in state outside New York City
Area restaurants will be added to senior dining program; allows participating seniors to choose a venue and meal each day
The Erie County Department of Senior Services has announced plans to initiate an expansion of the department's popular congregate dining program to include select local restaurants as dining options. The department, in partnership with Albany county, was recently awarded a two-year, $500,000 Administration for Community Living Innovations in Nutrition Programs and Services grant, which will facilitate plans to initiate a restaurant model congregate dining program that will allow eligible older adults the option of dining out at a participating food establishment with whomever they choose to dine with and select from a menu of pre-fixe meal options that are made to order.
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz today joined Congressman Brian Higgins and Commissioner of Senior Services Timothy Hogues at the West Side Bazaar on Grant Street in Buffalo for the announcement.
"Erie County seniors are active, engaged in their communities, and looking for ways to get out and enjoy the company of their peers while sharing a meal. That has been happening with the Senior Services' congregate dining program for years, and now this grant will allow for the expansion of the program to include meals at local restaurants along with the familiar senior center options," Poloncarz said. "This will be a great way for seniors to break bread together in a setting of their choosing, enjoying nutritional meals and good company at a participating venue, supporting our local restaurants while boosting the local economy at the same time. I thank Commissioner Hogues and the Senior Services department for their constant efforts to improve our seniors' quality of life and build a stronger community."
Higgins said, "This federal grant provided through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will support a senior dining pilot program in Erie County offering residents both expanded access to nutrition as well as additional options for community engagement. Erie County is to be commended for continuing to think outside the box in serving the needs of local residents."
In Erie County, there are 211,509 people over the age of 60, which represents 23 percent of the county's total population - and is a number that is expected to increase to 28 percent by 2020. Of these residents, 65,250 are living alone in their homes. People over 60 living at 100 percent or above the poverty level are at 91.3 percent.
Congregate dining programs are traditionally offered at select locations such as senior centers, community centers, religious institutions and senior housing facilities. Menus are pre-determined weeks in advance, and participants are served in a cafeteria-type fashion with little opportunity for choice. However, today's older adults are more likely to participate in new, choice-driven opportunities rather than the more structured nature of traditional congregate dining programs.
Other local restaurants joining the West Side Bazaar in the pilot program include Gigi's, the Cozy Corner in Springville, and Peg's Place in Hamburg. Restaurants participating in this pilot program will meet all ADA requirements and will provide a menu based on the USDA Older Americans Act nutritional requirement standards. Menus will be specifically tailored to this program, but will include various options and combinations that are not currently available with the traditional congregate dining experience. Breakfast, lunch and dinner options will be made available. Registered individuals will be able to present a key tag to claim their meal options and restaurants will be reimbursed for those meals.
Along with seniors' nutritional needs, the program is meant to address a number of growing issues among older adults as aging services' networks move toward a self-directing style. The restaurant congregate dining program will provide a new choice for individuals to eat well-balanced meals at their convenience. Participants may wish to utilize their benefit in conjunction with others such as friends, family and neighbors, thereby helping to minimize the prevalence of social isolation. Interacting with other customers and restaurant staff is intended to promote intergenerational connections and increased community engagement, which are critical components of Erie County's age-friendly community initiatives. It is anticipated this type of service will be very popular among both seniors and businesses; for seniors, it provides a casual and self-driven experience while local restaurants will benefit from an increased customer base and the opportunity to play a vital role in supporting a critical community function.
"This pilot program will be the first of its kind in New York state outside of New York City, and could pave the way for other counties in the future. For it to be successful, we want to engage underserved populations who may benefit most from the program, so it will be critical to identify establishments within the inner-city neighborhoods as well as rural communities," Hogues said. "With the baby boomer generation reaching the age of older adulthood, the number of individuals eligible for senior programs is growing at an unprecedented rate, and this new generation of older adults has different needs and expectations than their predecessors. Our new constituency is a generation of convenience. The easier it is to participate in aging programs, the more likely we are to appeal to new clients and service providers and expand our networks."
He continued, "The intent is about serving more individuals and creating an environment of choice, self-direction, social inclusion, community engagement, intergenerational connections and innovative technology-based efficiencies to highlight the importance of our work and expand the aging services network. Key performance outcomes must correlate with the intent of the program, and it will be important to conduct thorough cost analyses in order to determine if this pilot program can be reasonably sustained and replicated. If this pilot does prove successful, we will look for opportunities to expand where it makes sense for our congregate dining program. It would also engage 'younger' older adults and familiarize them with the Department of Senior Services to promote health and independence as they age."