LifePath looks to address food insecurity with new Farm to Home program

  • LifePath looks to address food insecurity with its new Farm to Home program, which connect elders and people with disabilities with local farms. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/13/2022 1:34:01 PM

GREENFIELD — In an effort to better address food insecurity, LifePath has launched a new food service program that aims to connect elders and people with disabilities with local farms.

“It’s sort of a dual target — in addition to great food to our consumers, we’re also enabling farms … in the sense we’re supporting the local farms and food producers,” said Deborah Luekens, program manager for the Farm to Home food program that launched last month.

The program, which provides $50 worth of food monthly to eligible participants, is funded by a $300,000 Community Development Block Grant administered through the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

Luekens said she is in need of volunteers to place orders from local farms for clients of LifePath, the organization that cares for older adults and people with disabilities in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region. The agency Mass Food Delivery of South Deerfield, which establishes contracts with local farms, will handle food pickup and delivery.

“The program really allows choice,” Luekens said. “Individuals can get the food that suits their dietary needs, and it’s all locally sourced, so it’s fresh. A lot of it is organic.”

The one caveat to this program, she noted, is people who participate need to be able to cook their own meals or have someone else cook for them.

Additionally, eligible participants in the program must be 60 years old or older, or younger than 60 years old and living with a disability; a resident of Franklin County, Athol, Petersham, Phillipston or Royalston; and have an income of up to $34,000 for an individual or $48,958 for a household of two or more residents.

Grant funding will allow the nonprofit to serve up to 400 individuals through next March, according to Luekens.

“Just from the initial start, the program is taking off beautifully,” commented LifePath Executive Director Barbara Bodzin. “With all the food insecurity issues out there, globally and regionally, anything we can do to try to sustain the program, we will do. We’ll look for other funding that might be available.”

Luekens added that since the program launched, LifePath has been receiving referrals daily.

“I don’t think there’s been a day we haven’t gotten referrals,” she said. “Some of our initial outreach was to councils on aging and senior centers. They know the folks in their communities the best.”

Luekens said she hopes to begin to reach more individuals who may not be connected to those types of organizations.

“We’re hoping … to find people who are falling through the cracks who have food insecurity,” she said, “but may not be connected with some of the programs that may already be out there.”

Volunteers needed

More than 25 volunteers are needed across LifePath’s three nutrition-related programs — Meals on Wheels, the Grocery Shopper program and Farm to Home, according to Carmela Lanza-Weil, associate director of volunteer resources with LifePath.

“The most critical need right now is grocery shoppers,” Lanza-Weil noted. “This was a COVID program when people couldn’t go to grocery stores. A lot of people are still in that situation … but we have volunteers who have been doing it for two years now and they’re getting tired. We need some fresh energy.”

Meals on Wheels also lost volunteers as a result of the pandemic, she noted.

Volunteers for Farm to Home, in particular, are needed for one to four weeks per month and can work from home. Luekens said she envisions each volunteer taking on three to five clients.

“I think, in the end, it’s going to depend on how many individuals are going to need help every month,” she said.

Anyone 18 years old or older can qualify to become a LifePath volunteer, according to a LifePath press release. Volunteer opportunities, including information on how to sign up, can be found at LifePathMA.org/get-involved/volunteer.

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