LIFE Receives Grant for Food Assistance Program

With the United Health Foundation estimating approximately 15 percent of Pennsylvanians 60 years and older who faced the threat of hunger in 2018, the LIFE (Living Independence for the Elderly) Programs in Armstrong, Beaver, Butler and Lawrence Counties are hoping to lower this statistic in 2019 with the help of a $15,000 grant.

When Darla Evans, director of nutritional services for the LIFE programs, began working for LIFE about 10 years ago, she didn’t notice any alarming concerns related to food insecurity.

However, as time went on, she started to observe the number of LIFE participants in need of dietary aid gradually begin to increase.

“When I first started here, someone would come up to me every once and a while to tell me about a participant,” Evans said. “Now it’s probably once a week I hear that someone is in need of emergency food.”

Upon noticing the rising demand to supply participants with nourishment, Evans and her supervisor, Caroline Robaskiewicz, regional director of LIFE operations, decided to submit a request for monetary relief.

“It was really a team effort,” Robaskiewicz said.

“Neither of us had ever written a grant before but shortly after we submitted the application, we heard back that we would receive $15,000 from the Ethel L. Verney Mission Endowment Fund of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod, ELCA.”

For the most part, programs of all-inclusive care for the elderly or (PACE), provide some form of nutritional assistance program.

This is usually carried out to participants who don’t have enough food each month by prepping, freezing and delivering meals.

The LIFE Supplemental Food Assistance Program is unique in the sense that it encompasses more.

“Besides providing the frozen meals we also deliver other staple items such as bread and milk to help our participants meet their basic nutritional needs,” Evans said.

The nutritional services team also works closely with social workers to ensure that other aspects of the program are running smoothly.

“Each participant is assigned a dietitian who works carefully to monitor and track their nutritional status,” Evans said.

“Our social workers further assist by helping to identify why that individual might be lacking food, then providing the appropriate education and resources.”

This grant will allow the LIFE Supplemental Food Assistance Program to expand program operations on a larger scale.

Food insecurity isn’t always related to a person’s lack of income either, as Evans explained.

Sometimes the elderly population doesn’t have reliable transportation or family support to retrieve their basic food needs.

Other times seniors could be experiencing physical issues such as limited mobility.

“So, depending on the situation, we can evaluate and assist them on an individual basis,” Evans said.

Cheryl Campbell, a LIFE Beaver County participant of eight years, has personally benefitted from the food assistance program toward the end of each month.

“I’m so happy and grateful to receive these meals,” Campbell said. “There are so many good meals it’s hard for me to choose which one is my favorite.”

Jonathan Lindgren, driver for LIFE Beaver County, is involved in program efforts by delivering meals to various participants about once a week.

“All of them love to eat lunch at the center so I’m sure they enjoy getting the meals delivered to their homes,” Lindgren said.

“It’s very rewarding to help others and we get attached to the people we serve.”

As for the future of the program, Evans and Robaskiewicz are optimistic.

“We are passionate about what we do because you begin to see what life would be like for a lot of these people if they didn’t have the program,” Robaskiewicz said.

“We hope as the LIFE centers continue to grow, so will the program.”