Senior Beat

Food program helps improve health of low-income seniors

By Carol Higgins Taylor

Special to The Weekly

There is nothing like a good breakfast to start the day right. I actually hit the ground running when I wake up and head for the kitchen, three cats and a little white dog at my heels.

Think about it. While you sleep, your body is basically fasting. Upon waking, it needs nourishment to function properly. Hence, the old adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Now, I’m not talking bacon, eggs and biscuits – unless you want to. Basically, a healthy breakfast could be toast with a little peanut butter and some sliced bananas, or yogurt with fruit and crunchy cereal, preferably with a good amount of fiber.

Some seniors just can’t eat first thing in the morning. And if that is how their body works, fine. What is truly sad is if they just can’t afford enough food to have three balanced meals each day. Imagine running out of food by the end of the month. It happens all too often. But Eastern Area Agency on Aging (EAAA) wants to put a stop to it, as does the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

To achieve the goal of reducing the number of seniors with empty cupboards, EAAA operates the USDA’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) which is designed to improve the health of low-income seniors by supplementing their diets with nutritious USDA food.

It may be a clunky name but the program is the best. CSFP supplies low-income seniors with a free, monthly, 30-pound box of food that includes things like ultra-pasteurized, shelf- stable milk, juice, farina, oats, boxes of ready-to- eat dry cereal, rice or pasta, peanut butter, dry beans, canned meats and canned fruits and vegetables. I have seen these boxes myself and they are wonderful. Many nutritious meals can be made with the contents.

While EAAA has operated this program for several years, recently its allocation was increased so even more seniors can be served. There are about 2,000 allotments available in Hancock, Penobscot, Piscataquis and Washington counties. That means 2,000 more seniors won’t have to go hungry. There are no strings, no contracts, just extra food for you each month.

“It is critical that we get as many seniors as possible enrolled in this program,” said Rob Crone, director of nutrition and auxiliary services at EAAA. “Food insecurity is a significant problem among seniors across the state. These boxes of food will help alleviate some of that I hope. It is horrible to think that some seniors are going to bed hungry.”

Sometimes a box of food like this is the difference between one meal a day and two or three meals a day. EAAA will also teach people to make the most of their box by providing tips and recipes.

But this is not as easy as one would think. The biggest stumbling block? Generous and thoughtful seniors who turndown the program because they think someone needs it more than they do. This is a real problem for Crone. There is no question that there are seniors out there who desperately need this supplemental food. But they are always putting someone else first.

“While we are inspired at the seniors’ attitudes and kindness towards their neighbors, the problem lies in the fact that if we don’t fill all the slots we have available, the impression will be to the federal government that we don’t need the extra boxes and they may be taken away,” said Crone. “That would be devastating because more seniors will end up going hungry or becoming malnourished. We need people enrolled.”

There are eligibility requirements to CSFP, but only a couple. You must be at least 60 years of age and have a household income at or below $1,307 for one or $1,760 for a couple. The income guideline increases if there are more than two people in the household. If you meet these two criteria, this program is designed for you. Call Eastern Area Agency on Aging at 1-800- 432- 7812.

Carol Higgins Taylor is an advocate for seniors and owns Bryant Street Public Relations in Bangor. Email her at


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