On Thursday, June 6th, the Age Well Community Council of Danbury in partnership with the United Way of Western CT held their second community-wide summit. With advice and feedback from expert speakers, community leaders, and residents, the Age Well Council aspired to learn, plan, and promote collective action to ensure every older adult in Danbury has access to nutritious food.
The summit began with opening remarks from Marie B. Miszewski, President & CEO Regional YMCA of Western CT and Co-chair of the Age Well Community Council. Ms. Miszewski welcomed everyone to the table as well as thanked everyone for being present at the summit and for their efforts to make Danbury a true age-friendly community. Then, the Honorable Mark D. Boughton, Mayor of Danbury, spoke about how the city is committed to caring for their senior population and making sure that every senior has access to the services and resources that they need. He also thanked everyone for playing their role and for coming to the summit in order to learn how they could make Danbury a better place to live.
Honorable Mark D. Boughton, Mayor of Danbury
Age Well Community Council and the United Way of Western CT
After Mayor Boughton’s remarks, Sherry Ostrout, Director of Government Initiatives for Connecticut Community Care, offered a welcome from the Age Well Community Council. She expressed how the Council is made up of a dedicated group of members that come from all parts of the Danbury community. Their main goal is to provide leadership, coordination, collaboration, alignment, and investment to improve the health and wellbeing of older adults. Also, Ms. Ostrout spoke about the last Age Well Council Summit in September 2018 and how 150 strengths, capabilities, access points, and calls to actions were made during that summit to help make the Danbury community more age-friendly.
Ms. Ostrout then introduced Cara Donovan, who is a Food Policy Manager at the United Way of Western CT. Ms. Donovan discussed how difficult it is for CT residents to access nutritious meals and how food security is a significant issue in our state. She mentioned that in Danbury approximately 9% of the population are living below the poverty level and are struggling to access food. Close to 50% are at the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained) level. Ms. Donovan emphasized the importance of service programs, food banks, and food pantries all working together in order to combat the issue.
A video highlighting the struggles of a few local Danbury residents to achieve food security was shared with the summit.
Discovery: Why Food Security and Older Adults
Jaime S. Foster, Ph.D., RD gave the keynote address for the summit. Dr. Foster is the Senior Director of Community Partnerships and Programs at the Connecticut Food Bank. The main subject of her research is evaluating, including, and advocating for improved nutrition evaluation and monitoring at food banks. She began her presentation by stating that the true problem with food security is not that we do not have enough food, but rather we do not have the correct distribution to ensure that every person in need has access to the food that we have. Her passion in life is to make sure everyone has dignified access to food sovereignty.
Dr. Foster first gave a background to food security and described what these words truly mean. She discussed the different levels of food insecurity, who is most susceptible to it, and the demographics behind it. Then, she spoke about the consequences of food security and how people on low or fixed incomes have to make choices about how to pay for their food as well as transportation, utilities, and healthcare costs. These choices in addition to the stress that accompanies it often leads to and aggravates health issues.
In the next part of her presentation, Dr. Foster talked about the Food Insecurity Safety Net and programs such as SNAP (Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program), CFSP (Commodity Supplemental Food Program), and the Senior Farmers Market Program. While these programs are beneficial, Dr. Foster pointed out how they are not doing enough to fill in the gaps and reach everyone that is in need of assistance. Also, she noted that these programs lack a nutritional component and need to be rethought in terms of a compliment to a healthy balanced diet.
Lastly, Dr. Foster provided a few advocacy recommendations. She urged those who work in the community and directly with seniors to make sure everyone knows what programs they are entitled to and what they need. She also suggested screening for nutritional risks to determine whether or not people have access to good healthy food. Most importantly, Dr. Foster urged everyone to capitalize on community partnerships and relationships. Food insecurity is a growing issue and the best way to combat it is to collaborate and work together.
Appreciative Inquiry-Dream, Design, and Deploy a Plan for Food Security
Heidi Gil of HoodenPyleGil led attendees in a group collaboration break out session. Using the model of Appreciative Inquiry, Heidi asked the break out groups to think about awareness, access, and advocacy with regard to food security. After, she prompted each group to develop a design or “prototype” to carry out one of the ideas that were discussed during the previous brainstorming session. At the end, each group was able to share their “prototype” with the entire summit.
The summit concluded with the commitment to finding ways to achieve the ideas and designs created during the group breakout sessions. The Age Well Council and the Advisory Team Planning committee are set to meet and discuss the calls to action that were created during the summit. They will evaluate the results of the summit and develop the next steps in order to take the ideas and make them into a reality.
The Age Well Community Council is grateful to the following supporters who made this event possible:
About the Age Well Community Council
The Age Well Community Council is a unique collaboration of representatives from government, business, philanthropy, nonprofit and other community organizations dedicated to a community where people can age (and care for others who are aging) in ways that are relevant, healthy and meaningful to individuals, cultures and the larger community.