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Chautauqua County Office for Aging Services
Chautauqua County’s Office for Aging Services received two national awards during the USAging Conference in Salt Lake City last month.
In total, USAging honored 50 innovative programs and initiatives nationwide that have successfully helped older adults across the country age well and play an active role in their communities. The County’s Santa for Seniors and Local Roots initiatives were highlighted.
The Santa for Seniors program distributes gifts and a holiday meal to more than 150 isolated older adults who are identified by community and government agencies. Community organizations and volunteers collect items, raise funds, pack boxes and deliver them to recipients. “Delivery elves,” including elected officials, are encouraged to socialize with recipients when delivering gifts.
For many years all items were donated, including printing and postage costs. Mayville Baptist Church used donated funds ($1,688) to fill each gift box. The Reverend J. Paul Womack Christmas Basket Fund spent $4,160 on holiday meals and food was delivered in donated canvas bags. Total costs in 2022 were $36 per client.
“It is wonderful to have amazing community partners to work with on this program. Our partners and volunteers really drive the facilitation and coordination. I thank our many volunteers, First Baptist Church of Mayville, NY, and Rev. J. Paul Womack Christmas basket Fund at Hurlburt Church Chautauqua NY,” said Deputy Director for Chautauqua County’s Office for Aging Services Dana Corwin. “The joy of brightening other lives, bearing each others’ burdens, easing each others’ loads and supplanting empty hearts and lives with generous gifts becomes for us the magic of the holidays” W.C. Jones. This is the reason for our program.”
In total, Santa for Seniors results in outreach to 30 new older adults each year. Elected officials connect with individuals served by Chautauqua County’s Office for Aging Services, which has helped to demonstrate the value of the agency’s work. Santa Claus visits to homes of people living with dementia elicited joy and excitement from many clients.
Local Roots, meanwhile, is a Community Nutrition program for older adults that improves access to fresh local produce. Not only does the program improve nutritional intake, it promotes independence and socialization, provides nutrition education and fosters community relationships with local growers and organizations like housing facilities, churches and other Local Roots sites.
The seasonal program provides fresh, local produce at little to no cost to, currently, more than 300 older adults at multiple pop-up locations in Chautauqua County. All locations are in underserved rural areas or low-income areas with little to no access to fresh produce. Setting up pop-up sites in the heart of these communities reduces transportation related barriers and facilitates socialization as they pick up their produce each week. A thoughtful focus is placed on inter-generational interaction as student volunteers serve at some of the sites.
Chautauqua County’s Office for Aging Services’ Registered Dietitian works, currently, with Abers Acres to plan which produce will be ready each week based on what is ripe for harvest. They work together to ensure the amount and types of produce are appropriate for about a week’s worth of fruits and vegetables for 1-2 older adults.
Nutrition education about preparation, storage and the nutritional benefits of the produce are included, as well as simple recipes to use the produce is also provided. Most recently, to ensure those with least access to our local bounty can be included, OFAS implemented a form of this program called “Local Routes.” This option is available to community-members who are unable to regularly get out of their homes, and receive a Home Delivered Meal through OFAS’ Dining In service. The weekly produce is packed and delivered with a meal delivery.
Local Roots is a collaborative community partnership program in which OFAS coordinates staff, community based organizations like the Jamestown Mobile Market, Abers Acres, churches, housing facilities, town parks and many wonderful volunteers.
The cost to participants is minimal and based on economic need, and additionally supported through collaborative funding with some of the partner organizations, as well as local foundations and grants. In 2023, while many of the participants receive the produce at no cost, the most a participant would responsible to pay is $12 for one week’s worth of fresh locally grown produce, considerably less then retail price.
“I am so proud that our relatively small, rural Office for Aging Services is able to produce cutting edge programs that are recognized by our peers from across the United States,” said Dr. Mary Ann Spanos the Office for Aging Services Director. “Our involvement with USAging over my tenure has spurred this innovation and I am thankful to the County Executive and County Legislature who has recognized the benefit and supported our involvement.”
The annual awards program, supported by Caregiving.com and Cumulus, recognizes USAging members that have developed leading-edge, successful and replicable programs for older adults in their communities while demonstrating sound management practices.
USAging is the national association representing and supporting the network of Area Agencies on Aging and advocating for the Title VI Native American Aging Programs. Mary Ann Spanos, Chautauqua County’s Office for Aging Services Director, is the group’s elected President.