As summer approaches, we look forward to spending more time outdoors, picnics and all the good things that summer brings to us.
At the Area Agency on Aging summer means something else: Farmer’s Market Voucher season. Area Agencies on Aging offer this program in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture to distribute vouchers to be used at approved farmer’s stands to purchase fresh produce. This program is very popular in our community and impacts the health and nutrition of older adults who qualify for the program and the farmers who participate in it.
This program doesn’t appear to have a lot of substance on the surface, but it is in fact it is a critical program we run in the community to combat food insecurity. More than 5.2 million seniors are food insecure in this country. That means one in 15 older residents in Lackawanna County will go hungry today.
Older adults often do not apply for SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, for a variety of reasons. We help and encourage them to apply, but often they will not. Those older adults often rely heavily on programs such as the Farmers Market Vouchers and congregate meals at Healthy Aging Campuses and Senior Centers to get by. We are grateful we can help them access the resources they need to stay healthy.
Each year, various county offices get calls asking if the vouchers are available. If you are worried you aren’t going to get your voucher, I want to assure you we have never run out in the six years I have been here. If we do indeed run out, we can ask for more that have not or won’t be used in another county. No one who qualifies needs to worry — we will have enough for you.
If you are single and earn $25,142 or less annually, you qualify. If you are part of a household and your combined earnings are $33,874 or less, you qualify. The application process is easy but required. You can apply for the vouchers several ways.
If you are tech savvy, you can use the application online at www.lackawannaaging.org/farmer-s-market-vouchers and email it to the Lackawanna County Area Agency on Aging. If you would the application mailed to you, please call our office 570-963-6740, choose option 4 and clearly leave a message with your name and address. We will mail you an application that you can return to us or submit at one of the many convenient locations where we will be offering them this season. Please be patient, talking to someone won’t move you up on the list or get you an application more quickly.
Lastly, we will be returning to in-person distributions at select locations. Traditionally this happened at senior centers. This year, we are making some changes to enhance the program and get out into the community more. With the help of our partners, including United Neighborhood Centers, The Greenhouse Project, NeighborWorks and the United Way, we will have events scattered throughout the county. We will advertise for the events online, in this paper and The Times-Tribune. Please look for a full listing of the locations.
Last season, our utilization rate for the program fell from the high of 93% to around 86%. It is not only important to get the vouchers, it’s important to use all of them. If you have the vouchers and having trouble using them, please let us know so we help you problem solve and get to the resources. If you need a proxy, we can help with that, too.
Lackawanna County has a little more than 250 farms. Many of these are small farmers that are some of the most community-minded and socially conscious people we know. They work very hard to give us incredible products each year and every time we buy local at a farmer’s market or other specified location, we help keep this community strong. This program puts around $132,000 back into this community, but what can’t be measured in dollars is the positive impact it has on the health and wellbeing of our older adults. We are always grateful to the farmers who participate in the program and help us serve the community we live in.
Jason Kavulich is the director of Lackawanna County’s Area Agency on Aging. For more information on services available call 570-963-6740.