Age Well Builds Food Security for Older Vermonters

A woman with curly white hair and black rimmed glasses stands in front of a street. She is wearing a blue denim jacket, holding a few sheets of paper, and smiling widely.

City Market is proud to work closely with Age Well to support their work serving older Vermonters. Our Members can volunteer with Age Well to earn Member Worker hours for in-store discounts. Age Well was also the recipient of one of our 2021 Co-op Seedling Grants. Recently, they invited our Media and Outreach Coordinator, Maddie Foerster, to ride along with their Meals on Wheels program to learn more about their work and to meet some of the people they serve. Maddie shares her experience here!

On one sunny June morning, I had the pleasure of doing a ride along with Age Well to help deliver meals as a part of their Meals on Wheels program. Age Well is a non-profit that has provided Vermonters with the necessary support to manage their daily living needs to keep them active, healthy, and independent since 1974. Meals on Wheels is one of their free nutrition and wellness programs for adults aged 60 and over and qualified adults under 60 with a disability. Through daily meal deliveries, Meals on Wheels reduces food insecurity, combats chronic illness, and ensures that those living alone have access to social engagement. Although Meals on Wheels is a national program, Age Well’s Meals on Wheels is the largest provider of this service in Vermont.

When I arrived at Age Well’s location, I was unsure that I was at the right place. Tucked in a parking lot behind an old school turned community center in the Old North End, the Burlington Age Well Food Hub is modest. But on any given weekday, this parking lot becomes just as described: a Hub. Volunteers from all over the area stop by the parking lot to grab a box of prepackaged meals and a roughly one-and-a-half-hour route to follow.

A man with a tan hat, grey t-shirt, white beard, and khaki shorts stands with a woman with white shoulder-length hair, black sweatshirt, and patterned leggings. The man holds a Chihuahua with his right arm, and his left arm is around the woman. They are standing in front of a Black SUV with the Age Well logo on the passenger door.

All of these prepackaged meals are approved by a Registered Dietitian and meet Older Americans Act (OAA) nutrition guidelines to help maintain health and assist the recipients in managing chronic health issues. Each meal is complete, providing 1/3 of the daily needs of people over the age of 60. Additionally, Age Well offers eight medically tailored meal options including Heart Healthy, Diabetic Friendly, Lactose-Free, and Gluten-Free as well as texture modification to help people manage their chronic health conditions. One recipient of Meals on Wheels explained that they cannot have any solid foods due to a recent procedure, and credited Age Well for being able to “still get a balanced meal,” with “vegetables, meat, and everything [they] need.”

Most volunteer drivers make a once-a-week commitment to deliver these meals, but many deliver multiple times throughout the week. Susyn Dees, the volunteer deliverer who I rode along with, delivers as often as her schedule allows. She has been volunteering with Age Well since 2019, after retiring from teaching radiology at Champlain College for almost three decades. Dees’ passion for Age Well’s mission was apparent from our first interaction at the Food Hub and then throughout the route.

Woman with grey curly shoulder-length hair, wearing a denim jacket, and a City Market reusable grocery bag with her back facing the camera walks through a parking lot of white condo complexs with green shutters. There is a gold subaru outback and a white Volvo SUV in the parking lot.

Dees emphasized the importance of all that Age Well encompasses, especially Meals on Wheels. During the ride along I saw that Meals on Wheels is much more than just a meal. It can also provide a friendly conversation, or sometimes even a wellness check. As an Age Well volunteer, Dees will sometimes accompany those that Age Well serves to appointments as a supporter or advocate. She explained, “mostly they need an advocate or someone to just have a second set of ears, if only that.”.

The personal connection Dees has made with some of the people on her usual route was apparent, but I also saw the direct impact on those who receive Meals on Wheels through their gratitude and conversations. For many aging Vermonters, trusted Age Well volunteers like Susyn, who show up every day with a meal and a warm smile, may be the only person they see or speak with all day. This could serve as a reason to get up in the morning, something to look forward to, or a reminder to take good care of themselves. Age Well’s Fiscal Year 2021 Participant Survey supported this, with 72 percent of the population Age Well serves agreeing that they felt more connected to their community and 89 percent saying they look forward to seeing their volunteer driver.

Statistics are helpful to measure how much of an impact Age Well has on aging Vermonters, but the impact is immediately apparent when you witness an interaction between a volunteer and participant. The smiles, relationships, jokes, and unspoken words were enough to make me want to participate in more than just a ride along.

Man with white hair, grey t-shirt, and plaid pajama pants stands crouched over next to a woman sitting down with white short hair wearing glasses, a pink pajama top, and a grey zip-up on. They are both smiling and holding up their pre-packaged Age Well meals in a living room with white walls.

Delivering meals for an hour and a half a day is an easy way to not only assist someone who may not have access to healthy meals otherwise, but also an amazing way to make a lasting connection with folks in the area that need a community. The impact Age Well leaves on its volunteers was enough to inspire me to apply to work with Meals on Wheels.

Applying to volunteer with Age Well is easy- fill out an application and a background check release form, both of which are available on their website. Once that is received, you will be contacted for an interview. Even better, if you are a Member of City Market who volunteers with Age Well, the hours you spend volunteering count towards Member Worker hours, which earn you in-store discounts. Age Well volunteers work in a variety of capacities, including care and service coordination; Meals on Wheels; community meals; wellness programs; social activities; transportation services; translation services; expertise on Medicare, insurance, long and short-term care options; and a Helpline for individuals in Addison, Chittenden, Franklin, and Grand Isle counties. More volunteers are always welcome!