The spread of the novel coronavirus and our attempts to “flatten the curve” have created a great deal of hardship for people around the world. Everyone is struggling to stock adequate food, medicine and household supplies while minimizing their risk of infection, but seniors face serious challenges to preparing for extended shelter-in-place orders. This pandemic has created a perfect storm for food insecurity among older Americans.
Millions of elderly individuals are already socially isolated, have limited income and assets, and/or rely on resources like group meals, food banks, transportation assistance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or “food stamps”) to access healthy food. Many senior centers and congregate dining sites that provide meals have closed due to limitations on mass gatherings, and public transportation services have been significantly reduced as well.
While changes to normal operations can be inconvenient and cause new barriers to food access, these updated coronavirus policies and public health measures are meant to protect the health and safety of employees, volunteers, consumers and communities as a whole. Social distancing is particularly important for older adults and individuals with underlying medical conditions since they are at greater risk for becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.
Fortunately, there are options available for seniors who need help getting groceries and prepared meals that involve minimal or no contact with other people.
Grocery Delivery Services for Seniors
The following services may only be available in limited service areas. Some of these options utilize personal shoppers and delivery people to deliver groceries and other items from local stores while others deliver or ship from large distribution centers. Contactless delivery and pick-up options are available from most retailers and service providers as well. Be sure to confirm COVID-19 safety protocols are in place prior to ordering. Keep in mind that membership may be required, delivery fees may apply and tipping is encouraged.
Paid Senior Meal Delivery Services
While some of the grocery delivery services listed above may also offer meal kits and prepared foods, the following services specialize in delivering fully cooked meals that are ready to reheat and eat. Offerings typically include subscriptions or meal plans and/or à la carte ordering for entrees, side dishes, snacks, breakfasts, desserts and more. Some services even prepare diabetic-friendly meals, dialysis-friendly meals, low-sodium meals, gluten-free meals and other nutritious options that are formulated for seniors who follow special diets. Meal delivery is typically paid for out of pocket. In some cases, state Medicaid programs, Medicare Advantage Plans (Part C) or other health insurance plans offer a paid meal benefit that covers meal delivery costs from certain providers.
Nutrition Benefits and Food Assistance Programs for Seniors
Grocery and meal delivery services are one solution for seniors who must stay in their homes during the coronavirus pandemic, but these options can be pricey. Most older adults live on a fixed income, which can make it especially difficult to afford enough food and supplies for several weeks under “stay-at-home” orders, even if some restaurants and services have waived delivery fees.
The list below will direct older adults and individuals experiencing financial hardship to programs and resources that can provide monetary food assistance, low-cost or free meal delivery, shelf-stable pantry items, transportation services, and much more.
- Meals on Wheels America: Seniors are able to receive home-delivered meals for free or for a small fee that is based on their ability to pay.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Seniors who meet income and asset limits are eligible to receive a monetary benefit to supplement their grocery budgets. Allotments are disbursed on electronic benefit cards (EBT) similar to debit cards that may then be used at approved retailers to purchase food. Some states have partnered with retailers to participate in the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot, which enables SNAP recipients to pay for online grocery delivery services using their EBT cards. This pilot is currently available in Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Oregon and Washington. SNAP funds cannot be used to pay for delivery fees or other charges associated with grocery delivery, however.
- Feeding America—Find a Food Bank: Use this search tool to find a food bank or food pantry in your area. Many of these sites have switched to to-go models that offer drive-through or walk-through pick-up. Some may offer no-contact senior food box deliveries as well.
- Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs): Your nearby AAA can connect you with federal, state and local resources for food assistance and many other senior benefits. Communities and local organizations typically offer unique supportive services to their residents that you may not be aware of.
- BenefitsCheckUp.org: Provided by the National Council on Aging, this free tool allows seniors to find benefits they may be eligible for by answering a few simple questions. Benefits aren’t just limited to food assistance programs either. Seniors may see if they qualify for veterans benefits, assistance with medication costs, tax relief programs, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), transportation assistance and much more.
Sources: Senior Food Insecurity Studies (https://www.feedingamerica.org/research/senior-hunger-research/senior); FNS Launches the Online Purchasing Pilot (https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/online-purchasing-pilot)