The Sky Valley Volunteers of America and a handful of community partners are starting up a food delivery program for seniors and others in need.

The local center’s director Calei Vaughn said essentially anyone who could benefit from the services will be fed. The first drop off is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 15, but only a few people have signed up.

“I know the need is huge,” Vaughn said.

She has heard estimates that there are hundreds of seniors living in remote areas of the Sky Valley who are no longer able to easily cook for themselves. The new program aiming to close that gap is called Sky Valley Elderly Nutrition Delivered (SEND).

The concept has been discussed for years, Vaughn said. She and resident Rosalyn Santerre, who runs the Gold Bar Farmers Market, decided right before the holiday season to finally put it together.

Vaughn said the hope is to establish a strong community network. That way if clients are in need other services, such as rides to pick up medications or appointments, those can be arranged; the dietary needs of individuals can be better addressed. That can include diabetes, high blood pressure, whether someone has access to a microwave or cooks on the stove, she said.

“We have all these questions, so we can really tailor based on information we receive,” she said.

Prepared meals will be a combination of food not served at the VOA’s Senior Center lunches, which are offered four days a week, Vaughn said. They will also come from community donations, including materials that can be used for packaging, she said.

The VOA will accept donations from grocery stores for the meals, Vaughn said. Businesses and individuals are invited to sponsor a senior, which equates to about $84 a week or $6 a meal to prepare and package.

Vaughn said the plan is to make deliveries twice a week. People will get meals for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday on Monday and food for Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday on Thursday. Participants can receive up to two packages a day for each day of the week, she said.

More and more older adults are experiencing food insecurity, according to the National Council on Aging. More than half of seniors struggling to get the proper nutrition are younger than 69, and almost one-third are disabled. Rates have risen 5.5 percent since 2001.

“At the same time, the percentage of seniors facing the threat of hunger has more than doubled,” according to the organization.

Only three out of five seniors who qualify participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Mobility, technology and stigma are some of the barriers the elderly face, according to the NCOA.

Gold Bar’s Soup Ladies and Sultan and Monroe’s Masonic Lodge have already agreed to regularly support the program. The Gold Bar VFW post has offered the VOA use of its commercial kitchen. Volunteers will also deliver some of the meals and help build connections with clients. Commander Richard Caciola, who assumed the post this year, said the nonprofit agreed to help coordinate in part because of a renewed commitment to engagement.

“We definitely need to reach out to our community,” he said. “We need members, and we can’t get members if people don’t even know we are there...our community can benefit from what we have to offer, and it gives a lot of our people a sense of purpose to help others in our community.” 

Caciola said there is a group of mostly retired veterans ready to volunteer for programs like local events. He said many of those members plan to help “pound the pavement” to get the word out about the new food delivery. He said he hopes the VFW can help people feel as comfortable as possible in accepting the services. VFW volunteers can meet up with anyone who needs help applying, he said.

“We are not just dropping the meals off,” he said. “We will spend time with the people, give them some company and make sure they are doing okay.”

Vaughn said generally people who are low-income will qualify, although anyone who expresses a need likely won’t be turned away. At this point she is just aiming to assist as many people as resources allow.

To sign up, call the VOA at 360-793-2400.