“The corn is one dollar each,” Kay Ee Siew, a community nutrition educator from the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Nassau County, said “and make sure you get coupons from the other side.”
At St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Port Washington, Siew is selling local produce to our senior population through the New York State Farmers Market Nutrition Program. From 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., with produce such as broccoli, cauliflower, corn and lettuce for the picking. Ever since the outbreak of the pandemic, government programs such as these have been employed to reduce the inconveniences on our senior population and aid them where they most need help.
Though Nassau’s Office for the Aging has developed some solutions to some of these problems, our existing programs must be improved and updated in order for our communities to thrive.
Life in Nassau County depends on a vehicle, and this way of commuting is ideal for most adults. However, when it comes to our seniors, many can no longer drive due to physical disabilities. Though transportation is provided to and from St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, it remains one route to one food bank in an expansive county. Our county’s senior citizens would benefit tremendously from a larger network of buses that connected people to these key nutritional centers. Food pantries, as well as school programs were the most used access points for obtaining produce.
Connecting our seniors with these nutritional distribution sites through a larger network would allow more people to access key services.
Aside from a lack of reliable transportation methods, the demand for quality produce has increased since the outbreak of the pandemic. Long Island Cares reported a 73.8 percent increase in food insecurity from March to September of last year alone. One practical solution already put in place is the farmers’ market hosted by the Cornell Cooperative Extension. Their mission is to bring fresh produce from local farmers to the needy. It’s a win-win for both the farmers and our seniors. However, the surging demand for fruits and vegetables means that food banks will require more produce to fill their shelves. Building strong and lasting relationships with local growers would ensure that food banks communicate the ever-changing needs of the Long Island population.
Providing fresh fruits and vegetables is a great start to improving our county’s overall health. However, seniors in particular may not be able to cook high quality meals due to physical ailments or a lack of access to a caregiver who can cook for them, which is often not covered by Medicare. Being able to cook meals quickly and easily is a priority for our seniors, and providing this service will require a change in our approach beyond distribution from a food bank. Companies such as Blue Apron have developed a meal delivery service with recipes that require only 35 minutes of preparation on average. Packaging foods together that can be made into meals in 40 minutes or less would lessen the burden on both the elderly and their caregivers.
Access has become a defining issue for every community, now more than ever. COVID has disproportionately affected segments of our county’s population, especially the elderly, and we owe it to our seniors to create safe and reliable programs to meet the gaps in critical care that prevent seniors from living their most healthy lives.
—YuFeng Lin, a senior at Manhasset High School