PITTSTON — Her mission is to conquer senior citizen hunger in the state of Pennsylvania. She made a stop in Luzerne County to get her point across to local senior citizens.
More than 60 senior citizens were at the Pittston Active Adult Center Monday to hear Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne discuss how Pennsylvania senior centers provide vital programming, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Senior centers throughout the Commonwealth provide opportunities for more than 100,000 older Pennsylvanian’s each year.
September is National Senior Center Month and National Hunger Action Month. Osborne’s mission Monday was to inform the senior public about SNAP.
“The efforts conducted through theses organizations ensure hunger is alleviated and proper nutrition is promoted,” Osborne said. “Our senior centers are a key component to a community and help seniors of all ages.”
SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp program, offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities. These benefits are used to buy food and help eligible low-income households in Pennsylvania obtain more nutritious diets by increasing their food purchasing power at grocery stores and supermarkets.
Seniors enrolled in SNAP are also eligible for monthly food boxes. Osborne said one of the biggest reasons senior citizens don’t enroll in such programs is insecurity or embarrassment.
“Food Stamps always carried a negative stigmatism,” she said. “These are not food stamps. This is a nutritional program allowing senior citizens to stretch their dollar.”
Senior citizens have told Osborne SNAP doesn’t provide a lot of money when it comes to benefits.
“If you found a $10 bill on the ground, would you pick it up?” she asked.
The SNAP program benefits seniors who live alone and those who live with other family members. The maximum gross monthly income for a single person on SNAP is $1,557.
Members of the CEO/Weinberg Food Bank were on hand in Pittston, as well. The food bank offers food to four counties in Pennsylvania: Luzerne, Lackawanna, Susquehanna and Wyoming. Following Secretary Osborne’s comments, seniors were given two bags of sealed sweet peppers, two bags of green beans and four cucumbers, all of which came from Weinberg. Seniors were also given recipes to use with the peppers and green beans.
“In our Commonwealth, there are 2.7 million individuals over the age of 60,” Osborne said. “It’s a blessing the food bank can serve four counties.”
Rich Kutz, director of the Weinberg Food Bank, said there are nearly 300,000 seniors in Pennsylvania who suffer from food insecurity.
The Pittston Adult Active Center is run by Connie Andrews and has approximately 600 members. Approximately 60 people walk through the door each day for a hot lunch. Having Secretary Osborne come to the center was an honor for Andrews.
“No one should be hungry,” Andrews said. “It’s important that they are aware of that. It’s not a welfare program; it’s an entitlement program.”
Another point Andrews and Osborne wanted to get across to the crowd is this year’s National Senior Center Month theme. The Department of Aging is joining the National Council on Aging to observe this year’s theme: LIFE. “Learning, Independence, Friends and Energy” helps remind citizens there is always someone there for you, even if you don’t need it.
Osborne was particularly impressed with how the Pittston center has done over the past several years.
“The richness of the folks here is great,” she said. “Many people told me they didn’t know each other until they came here. Now, they are family. To be able to spread that word across the Commonwealth is beneficial.”
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick