Oklahoma is one of the top 10 states for food insecurity among seniors, according to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. More than 21 percent of Oklahoma seniors are threatened by hunger, which means one in 11 does not have enough money to pay for necessities, such as enough food to stay healthy.
The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma delivers food every month to 18 different Oklahoma Housing Authority sites to help senior residents put food on their tables. Senior Mobile Markets provide free fresh produce once a month to underserved areas and in places where there may be a shortage of nutritious options, known as “food deserts.” In 2016, the Senior Mobile Markets served an average of 1,050 seniors a month.
Since transportation is a barrier for many seniors in Oklahoma, this program brings the food directly to their homes. The Senior Mobile Markets travel to different senior housing authorities and distribute food at a convenient location.
“The program definitely reaches quite a lot of people, especially for seniors where mobility and transportation are so difficult,” says Keeley White, Mobile Market coordinator at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma. “They’re also on a fixed income, and when you’re on a fixed income healthy items are the first things to go on your grocery list.”
The Mobile Market usually provides produce, breads and a protein. Seniors are able to shop the market to choose foods they prefer once a month. The program is only available to the seniors who live in the senior housing authorities.
“Seniors don’t have to sign up, they just know it will be there,” White says about the Mobile Market. “We go on the same day every month so they always know we’re coming. Then the residents can come or choose not to come.”
Food education at the Mobile Market
The Senior Mobile Markets provide an opportunity for the food recipients to learn about making healthy choices and how to cook some of the food they pick up.
Pam Patty, a registered dietitian at INTEGRIS, volunteers her time at the Senior Mobile Markets. She says, “If people are in line to get their food, my opportunity as a dietitian is to help educate them.”
For example, the seniors are able to choose three different breads. Many seniors choose white bread since that type of bread is often most familiar. While passing out the bread, Patty will talk about the other breads and ask if they might want to try something new.
“Even if you want two of your breads to be white bread, that’s not a problem,” Patty says. “That third bread could be your adventure loaf!”
Sometimes the Mobile Market offers a food demonstration for the seniors based on the food they will receive that day. The demonstrations are helpful because the seniors are able to learn how to use and cook the foods available to them. For example, Patty says in the past she found people wouldn’t choose brown rice.
“People didn’t prefer brown rice because maybe they didn’t know how to cook it,” Patty says. “So the folks from the Food Bank would have samples and I would demonstrate how to use it. A lot of people changed their attitude toward it because they were able to taste it.”
Fresh produce makes a difference
The Senior Mobile Market provides each senior an average of 27.5 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables every month.
“Keeley is also a dietitian, so she has been a huge advocate to get the quality of food for people,” Patty says. “It’s easier to get shelf-stable foods, but she’s been on the front lines to get the fresh raw produce. I’ve never seen anybody turn down the raw produce. I’ve never heard anybody say, ‘no, thanks, I don’t want any apples today.’”
Patty says she tries not to pry or be disrespectful when suggesting healthier options. “It’s an opportunity to converse with people,” Patty says. “They didn’t come here for a lecture – they came to get some food. The Food Bank is there to be a part of their health improvement and not sell to them.”
If you’d like to get involved with the Senior Mobile Markets there are different ways you can help. Until April 30, every dollar donated will provide 10 meals to seniors, instead of the usual five meals. To donate, visit the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma’s donation page. If you’d like to volunteer your time, visit the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma’s volunteer page.
If you need food assistance, the best way to get help is to go to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma’s website and click “I need food” to find the closest food pantry to you.