A Twin Cities program that helps the elderly stay in their homes is going to need a little help as well if it is to properly serve the onrush of “baby boomers” now entering the ranks of senior citizens.
Store To Door, a nonprofit organization formed 25 years ago in south Minneapolis, serves 1,300 elderly people in the seven-county metropolitan area from its base of operations in St. Paul. Last year, volunteer shoppers and Store to Door staffers filled and delivered 16,502 grocery orders-including some pharmacy prescriptions-to people’s kitchens that were valued at $1.2 million.
The average age of Store To Door clients is 85, said Mary Jo Schifsky, the program’s executive director.
“Many of our clients would have a difficult time staying in their homes if we didn’t provide grocery deliveries,” she said. “Well, for many, it would be impossible.”
What Store To Door does is have volunteers call homebound clients to take grocery orders, and then volunteers go to five Cub Foods stores in the metro area to do the shopping. Staff workers for the nonprofit organization then make delivery to the clients’ kitchens where the client pays by check, credit and debit cards, or EBT card for SNAP (food stamps) payments.
Since the large majority of clients are elderly women who did not receive the pension benefits more typical of today’s workplaces, a large percentage of clients do qualify for SNAP benefits, said Susan Herridge, development director.
And that is where Store To Door and its clients encounter unintended problems accessing federal nutrition program assistance. This is significant; the Boston Consulting Group in a report for Second Harvest operations found that about $200 million in federal food aid goes unused each year in Minnesota.
Policy changes needed
Store To Door has been getting help from a Washington, D.C. think-tank, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, in drafting policy recommendations to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Delivery services do not currently qualify for accepting SNAP benefits.
Working with Cub Foods, however, Store to Door is able to use Cub’s federal authorization to purchase groceries for its clients. But it is a slow process with homebound elderly needing to trust Store To Door staffers with their personal SNAP information (EBT cards).
This is why Store To Door must have staff handling client information and actually making the physical deliveries to people’s homes, said Schifsky. “These are vulnerable people. We have to know who has contact with our clients.”
Store To Door and the Center are keeping Minnesota’s congressional delegation informed for possible legislative action If changing USDA regulations can’t be achieved through normal regulatory processes.
At the state level, meanwhile, various departments and agencies have been supportive of local and regional councils on aging and other planning groups, Schifsky said. “But it’s the same old problem; there isn’t any money.”
If Minnesota wants to keep its elderly living in their homes, and in their home communities, it will need to create statewide programs like Store To Door. This will cost money; many areas of the state don’t have the corporate social responsibility assistance of Cub Foods, and its parent-Minnesota-based SuperValu-or other prominent companies and their people that support Store To Door.
The program was envisioned 25 years ago by Dr. David Berger, then with the Wilder Foundation. He left that position to start Store To Door with another Wilder colleague, Judy Madaj. They could see a need then, and understood changing demographic patterns that would make the service even more important going forward.
In a Fall 2005 report, “Demographics of an Aging Population,” the Minnesota Department of Health cited several demographic studies in noting that the so-called “baby boomers”-people born between 1946 and 1964-will begin reaching age 65 next year.
That means the state’s older population will double by 2030, to 24 percent of total population from 12.1 percent in year 2000. In actual numbers, the age 65 and older population is expected to grow from 600,000 in 2000 to 1.2 million in 2030. Moreover, rural counties account for 30 percent of the state’s population but are home to 41 percent of the state’s 65 and older residents.
One study cited in the report projected the age group of 85 years and older will triple in the decades ahead.
Such data show a statewide need for programs like Store To Door. And that need is about to increase dramatically with the state’s aging population.
Store To Door is a nutrition colleague with close ties to Second Harvest Heartland, Meals on Wheels programs, and local councils on aging. More information about the organization can be found at www.storetodoor.org.