Knowing that grocery stores are a key location to reach local senior citizens, the Ohio District 5 Area Agency on Aging (AAA), Inc. is using supermarket screening booths and food demonstrations to help eligible seniors apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) and learn to prepare healthy meals at the same time.

Who was the target audience?

Low-income seniors 60+ living in Richland County

What did they do?

Discussions with the local Department of Job and Family Services led to the realization that seniors were one of the populations most underserved by food assistance programs. Using methodology from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the AAA counted more than 700 potentially eligible seniors who weren’t receiving SNAP benefits, and received a 23-month grant from FNS to target this group.

Chef Kay Varley

Chef Kay Varley shows how to prepare healthy meals during a SNAP outreach event

Recognizing that everyone visits a supermarket, the AAA partnered with five small grocery stores to conduct outreach and application assistance with their clientele. The AAA created a portable, private screening booth (complete with wireless Internet to use the online SNAP pre-screening tool) that can be set up and easily dismantled at the stores. Screening dates and times are advertised in grocery bag inserts, as well as in flyers, TV ads and announcements in church bulletins, food banks and newsletters. Volunteers help those found eligible for SNAP with filling out an application, which is later checked at the AAA office and forwarded on to Job and Family Services when complete. All seniors who approach the booth also are given a pocket magnifying glass (stamped with the AAA phone number) to better read food labels, and information about the AAA, Job and Family Services, and other benefits programs for which they may be eligible.

To further entice persons to drop by the booth – and to show how to make nutritious meals on a SNAP budget – a local chef, Chef Kay Varley, is sometimes on hand to make meals and give out recipes. Because the FNS grant does not permit spending on food, the AAA has partnered with an assisted living facility to sponsor the cooking demonstrations.

What was the result?

At the time of writing (early 2011), the AAA had screened 264 seniors at the grocery store booths; approximately 80% of those pre-screened were found eligible and completed applications for SNAP. Word of mouth continued to draw in local residents, who sometimes line up to be screened before the booth is open.

The FNS grant ran through March 2011, though the AAA planned to continue with the initiative thereafter. It also had plans to replicate the screening booths in grocery stores in other Ohio counties.