Belpre resident Ramesh Patel, 69, a retired civil engineer, has a daily routine he truly enjoys.
"I come here for my lunch, go to the library and visit my grandkids," Patel said, with a beaming smile. "It keeps me busy, entertained."
Patel was one of 26 senior citizens who gathered at noon Friday at the O'Neill Center in Marietta for the daily lunch. The O'Neill is one of five congregate meal sites offered by Washington-Morgan Community Action. Meals for seniors also are available in New Matamoras, Beverly, Layman and McConnelsville. Meals are served at noon Monday through Friday except for the six major holidays.
PHIL FOREMAN The Marietta Times
Al Neader, 83, of Norwood, picks up his Mexican lunch of a burrito, Doritos and refried beans Friday from Reba Leonard, 23, of Marietta, who helps with meal preparation and service of the congregate meals at the O’Neill Center. Neader said he enjoys the lunches and comes to the center “just about every day.”
The congregate meal sites typically serve about 350 meals each day among the sites and including home-delivered meals, said Carrie McNamee, director of senior and community services for Community Action.
According to numbers from the Area Agency on Aging, its providers supplied 210,592 home-delivered meals and 44,481 congregate meals in 2012.
Hunger Action Month is observed during September, and communities are being asked to increase awareness of the services available to citizens - especially senior citizens - who might be food insecure, meaning they don't know where their next meal is coming from.
How to get help
Area Agency on Aging: 1-800-331-2644.
Washington-Morgan Community Action: 373-3745.
Franciscan Meals: 373-7988. Office is open from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Other programs available
Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program: Provides eligible seniors coupons to buy produce from authorized farmers at markets or roadside stands. The U.S. Department of Agriculture program provides eligible seniors 60 and older with fresh, locally grown fruits, herbs and vegetables.
Most food insecure seniors might be eligible for savings programs through Medicare to help with prescription costs or for food resources, such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), formerly known as food stamps.
More people could be helped, McNamee said.
"Probably people don't know about (the congregate meals) at all, or they think it should be for someone else," she said. "Some people can't get out (to come to a congregate site). We encourage people to come to our congregate sites."
The organizers of the congregate meals ask for a $3 donation per diner; however, no one is refused a meal if they can't pay, McNamee said.
According to the Feeding America report Ohio is 11th in the nation for high food insecurity, with 15 percent of Ohioans considered food insecure in 2011.
In Washington County, the poverty rate among resident 65 and older is 9.8 percent.
That's lower than other counties in Ohio and lower than the average of the eight counties in southeast Ohio served by the Area Agency on Aging's District 8.
By comparison, the Meigs County poverty level among its senior citizens is 13.5 percent. Morgan County reports 12.5 percent.
"Part of that could be because Washington County has Marietta and more resources," said Gwynn Stewart, communications director for Buckeye Hills and Area Agency on Aging.
Senior citizens who are hungry or food insecure continue to be a problem in southeast Ohio and across the country.
"It's probably higher than most people would imagine," Stewart said. "Being on a fixed income, it can be an issue."
Both Stewart and McNamee agreed their respective agencies want to ensure that seniors are eligible and register for assistance, such as HEAP to get help with heating bills or medication assistance, to free up money in their budgets for food.
"Seniors may also be eligible for home-delivered meals, don't know about community congregate meal sites or about programs like the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition program," said Area Agency on Aging Director Rick Hindman. "Our staff can help direct seniors and caregivers to nutrition services in the community."
Besides a warm meal, local senior citizens enjoy being able to interact with their peers.
"It's a good lunch and socializing," Patel said. "We also find some information about auto repair and activities in town, and we talk about what's going on."