DC program helps seniors shop for healthy food


D.C.’s Department of Aging and Community Living is launching a pilot program to help seniors make the right nutritional choices.

The older you get, the more important it is to stay healthy.

But especially now, with inflation being felt at grocery stores, it can be hard to choose between healthier, more-expensive food and less-healthy, cheaper alternatives.

On Tuesday, D.C.’s Department of Aging and Community Living (DACL) is launching a pilot program to help seniors make the right choice, and it includes money so they can afford it.

“Going through the food pantries, they give you a lot of canned food and not necessarily things you like,” lamented Gloria DuBissette, who lives in Columbia Heights. “With this card, you’ll be able to go to stores and buy whatever you want, which is great.”

That’s the starting point for the program.

“We’re providing 450 seniors with grocery cards that have $125 on them that will be reloaded each month for the next 11 months,” said Jessica Smith, the interim director of DACL. “They can use those funds at any grocery store in the District to purchase any food that they choose.”

The one condition tied to the funding, which provides the money on cards (you can’t take it to an ATM and withdraw the cash though) is that the seniors have to attend a certain number of nutritional classes.

For Lawrence Byrd of Anacostia, that was a perk, not a hassle.

“It’s lovely. I think it’s a real good program,” said Byrd. “They’re telling you a lot of good things that you can do for your body and things that help you keep yourself up so you can live longer.”

“You assume that people of a certain age have knowledge, but not necessarily,” said DuBissette. “Everybody needs to be reminded and updated on how they should be eating — particularly as you get older, because your nutrition is going to affect your health.”

The pilot program involves seniors who meet certain eligibility criteria, which includes income and residency requirements. They also need to be able to cook and prepare their own meals.

“These are folks that have built the very communities that we’ve come to know and love,” said Smith. “They are smart and they are competent. They know the decisions that they want to make over their nutritional health, and we want to give that power back to them and really see how that affects their health and mental health outcomes.”

She expects that this program will be popular, and the hope is that it will be able to expand. While it’s too late to sign up for it this year, she stressed there are other forms of help for seniors who need it.

“DACL provides numerous nutritional services,” said Smith. “We have home-delivered meals, we have congregant dining sites, over 40 sites across the District that provide people with food. We also have partners throughout the community that provide produce, grocery delivery, things like that.”

“We want to make sure that even if someone wants services, and now that this program is capped, that we can still get them connected to a number of our nutrition programs that we provide across the District.”

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