"Are you sure you're over 60?" a male volunteer at the Klein JCC asked a woman, handing her a form to fill out. Smiling, she provided him with proof of age and residence, which were necessary in order to be eligible for this year's Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program, which started throughout the city on July 13 (the Klein in the Northeast began passing out vouchers two days later, along with the Stiffel JCC in South Philadelphia).
The voucher program, administered by the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, provides a chance for low-income city seniors to buy produce they might otherwise be unable to purchase. The Klein has been partnering in the effort for the past 10 years.
According to Helen Cooke, assistant director for health and nutritional services at PCA, who also oversees the voucher program, the point is to help seniors stretch their food budgets, while at the same time encourage them to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables.
With about 35 different distribution locations (the packets are given on a first-come, first-served basis), the Klein and Stiffel, in particular, are able to focus more on Jewish seniors in need. Every qualified person receives four vouchers, valued at $5 each, which may be used at any one of 33 farmers' markets listed on the brochure accompanying the checks. The vouchers, valid until Nov. 30, will go toward the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables that "are grown or growable in Pennsylvania," according to Cooke.
Due to the number of seniors living in the Northeast who may be unable to get themselves to participating markets, the Klein JCC will be hosting employees from Lancaster Farms on Friday, July 24, and again on Monday, Aug. 3, from 10 a.m. to noon.
"The mission," said Barbara Shotz, COO of senior and educational programming at the Klein, "is to make sure seniors are healthy, active and independent, and to feed the body, mind and soul in order to provide a better quality of life."
One elderly gentleman waiting in line to receive his packet explained that as a senior citizen, he has different priorities when shopping, and replenishing his produce is not always a task at the top of his list. The vouchers, he continued, give him the ability to accomplish that goal in an easier way.
By 11 a.m. on the second day of distribution, the 1,500 packets ordered by the Klein had been passed out, leaving volunteers to turn people away while they rushed to request more.
"This kind of a response was expected, but is overwhelming at the same time," said Shotz, as she ran off to call PCA.
For information, call 215-765-9040 (www.pcacares.org).