[The following was submitted by State Senator Katherine Clark.]
March is National Nutrition Awareness Month, a nutrition education campaign created annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to promote informed food choices and healthy physical activity.
This year’s campaign encourages families to use the “My Plate” concept developed by the USDA. It endorses a healthy diet that: emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products; includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; and is low in saturated fats, transfats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars. You can learn more at www.choosemyplate.gov.
Ensuring healthy families and a healthy community also means providing nutritious meals to those who are hungry and in need. One way that we have successfully done this in Massachusetts is through the Elder Nutrition Program, which provides nutritious meals to senior citizens and disabled persons at local service centers and in their own homes via Meals on Wheels.
This is a federal and state funded nutrition program, administered by the state in partnership with local elder services agencies throughout the Commonwealth. All meals are developed by a nutritionist, and the program provides special diabetic and kosher menus as well. Any senior over 60 years old is eligible, and no one is turned away because of an inability to pay.
Unfortunately, the recent budget proposal put forward by Governor Patrick would cut funding for this critical program by over $1.5 million. This would mean thousands of fewer meals statewide. Even in a time of fiscal constraint, our state cannot afford this cut to vital services.
Each year, 27 nutrition programs located throughout the state serve over eight and a half million meals to seniors. These meals are provided at more than 400 service sites, and more than half of the total meals are served to homebound elders. In our district, Mystic Valley Elder Services administers a program that serves 2,000 meals each day. That includes 300-400 meals/day in senior centers, which provide a great way for seniors to get out and interact with others, and often to learn about other services that may be available to them and their families, like transportation, health screenings, and recreation opportunities.
And programs like Meals on Wheels provide much more than just a balanced, healthy meal to a senior in need. The delivery personnel also check on the well-being of home-bound seniors and, in some cases, offer the only regular human interaction they receive. For already isolated seniors, insufficient Meals on Wheels funding will cut off a vital line to the outside world and an important way to ensure the safety, security and health of some of the most vulnerable members of our community.
I will continue to fight to ensure that the funds for the Elder Nutrition Program are preserved at a time when they are so desperately needed. A challenging budget environment certainly requires tough choices, but cutting funds for nutritious food for our seniors is one choice we should not make.