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Special delivery — Help sought getting food to homebound

SEEKING HELP — The Senior Support Action Group and the Salvation Army of Steubenville are partnering to begin a new program of delivering a food box monthly to qualifying homebound recipients, hopefully starting as soon as July 7 to accommodate innercity Steubenville residents. Volunteer drivers age 55 and older are needed to make deliveries, and signups are in progress for qualifying recipients. Looking forward to the partnership are, from left, Marti Leake, RSVP program coordinator for Columbiana and Jefferson counties; Angie and Mike Smith, corps commanding officers of the Salvation Army of Steubenville; and Paige Fortner, manager of the Lisbon-based Senior Support Action Group. -- Janice Kiaski

STEUBENVILLE — Having food available from a food pantry or food bank for those who need it is one thing.

Getting it to them can be quite another issue — one the Salvation Army of Steubenville and the Senior Support Action Group are partnering to address in launching a food delivery program for qualifying homebound innercity Steubenville seniors with food insecurity needs.

Help is needed, however, to make that happen, program officials explained.

Drivers to deliver a box of food once a month and qualifying seniors to receive it are two groups of people that Paige Fortner, manager of the Lisbon-based Senior Support Action Group, wants to hear from, she explained during a recent visit to the Salvation Army post on North Fourth Street.

The boxes are delivered to seniors and other qualifying individuals who otherwise are unable to go to a food bank or food pantry to pick up a box of food.

The newly formed Senior Support Action Group is “a coalition of community partners working together to provide seniors with access to food, transportation and companionship in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties” and now looking to expand into Jefferson County.

Plans were reviewed when Fortner met with Capts. Mike and Angie Smith, corps commanding officers of the local Salvation Army, and Marti Leake, RSVP program coordinator for Columbiana and Jefferson counties.

The Senior Support Action Group is in its infancy.

“It started in 2020 as a pandemic response because a lot of the seniors in the area were more home-bound because they are compromised and didn’t want to go out, and then as things started to get better, we found that people were still home-bound and still needing that access to the food and transportation and companionship so that’s why it’s continued into 2022,” Fortner said of what was initiated by Leake and Leah Sakacs, RSVP coordinator for Mahoning and Trumbull counties.

Although the delivery of the food boxes to seniors’ homes started during the pandemic, that need existed long before, according to officials.

“The senior support action group provides services to home-bound seniors 55 and over who are living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold,” Fortner said. “We are a three-part service so first of all we do food delivery boxes made from local food pantries so that’s why we’re partnering with the Salvation Army. They’re going to help us with those food boxes,” she added.

“We have a companionship part of the program, which is a Phone Pal program where our volunteers call our clients once a week and talk for about 30 minutes and see what’s going on in each other’s lives and then the third part is transportation to medical appointments and the grocery store,” she continued.

“We are a completely volunteer-run program so we rely very heavily on our volunteers to kind of complete each of the three parts of the program,” Fortner said.

More than 200 households are served each month in Mahoning County, according to Fortner, as part of the delivery program involving about 14 drivers. In Columbiana County, about five volunteers are delivering to 20 households.

“This is specifically delivery for people without access to transportation and can’t leave their house,” Fortner pointed out.

Locally, the program is hoped to take root by July 7 and provide deliveries to innercity Steubenville households with potential to expand further in Jefferson County.

“We want to get the program kicked off, which means we need to have clients and volunteers,” Fortner said, encouraging potential clients to contact her by phone at (330) 424-7877, extension 2, or by e-mail to pfortner@fcsserves.org.

Volunteer drivers can contact Fortner the same way. They should be 55 or older, have a valid driver’s license and auto insurance. They would use their own vehicles, receive mileage reimbursement and are covered under supplemental insurance when doing food box delivery.

“We will explain the program, and then we’ll send a volunteer application to them if they want to volunteer, or if they want to be a client, we have a client intake form we fill out with them to ensure they are eligible, meeting income guidelines and that they don’t have transportation, and we can get them a letter of agreement. Once they send that back, we’re able to add them to the route and start serving them the boxes,” Fortner explained.

Leake noted the Senior Support Action Group is seeking an AmeriCorps VISTA person to assist with community outreach in Jefferson County and help facilitate the program.

Primary responsibilities would include developing community relations, recruiting volunteers and expanding Senior Support Action Group’s client base and services.

An AmeriCorps VISTA is a Volunteer In Service To America serving full time for one year and receiving a monthly stipend with some health benefits and an education award at the end of the service year. To apply go to bit.ly/Jefferson-VISTA.

The VISTA person would have office space provided where the Salvation Army operates and help with program sustainability, working on a volunteer base and help with fund-raising, according to Leake.

Leake said the emphasis at present is establishing a client and volunteer base for the food program in Steubenville. “Then eventually we can have that conversation with volunteers — would you be willing to go some extra miles,” she said of its potential to expand in Jefferson County.

“We need to identify needs in rural areas of Jefferson County, and then we can kind of build on that, and that’s how I did this in Columbiana County in September 2020. I kind of got the need going, I kind of got that interest with the volunteers, and we pieced it out little by little instead of, here we are, let’s do the whole county. I even divided Columbiana County into two segments so to speak, the northern and southern part of the county.”

The boxes will be delivered from the Salvation Army location.

“This is food the Salvation Army already gets from Mid-Ohio Food Bank, where most of our food will be coming from, and we’ll just order a bit more, and we have a wonderful food pantry,” Angie said, noting such a need being met is overdue.

“Since we arrived in Steubenville two years ago, we’ve received multiple calls from people asking if we provided delivery service, and we have many guests who have a proxy form, so at our food pantry, if they have a proxy form, that means someone else can pick up their food on their behalf, so we have many proxy forms where they have a neighbor, friend or relative who comes and picks up food for them and delivers to their home, so this is another way to serve those who do not have that person to rely on and they can be a little more self-sufficient with some help from other organizations,” Angie said, adding that, “This is a unique situation that we can partner and come together and serve our community better.”

A typical food pantry box includes at least three meals for three days with some extras, according to Angie. “We try to have a meat in there and try to throw in a few extra goodies depending on what our food pantry has.”

“For an individual, that three days could be stretched beyond three days so that would supplement their monthly food costs,” Leake pointed out.

What would be three meals for three days for a family could amount to a week’s worth of food for an individual.

Monetary donations for food are always helpful, according to Angie, “because then we get a discount in price from the food bank so it makes that dollar go a little farther.” Donations can be made to the Salvation Army and mailed to P.O. Box 1226, Steubenville OH 43952. “Food” should be written on the memo line.

“All of the money we receive stays within our community,” Angie said.

“We’re going to look eventually for help with fresh produce for the Salvation Army to include in those boxes, so this a collaboration, a partnership we’re going to enter into and help each other, not just that individual we’re going to serve, but help this agency, help our agency and help individuals because we know what the need is, we have identified it already, it’s getting there,” Leake commented.

“A lot of these folks, like at Jefferson Place, they can’t come up the street (to the Salvation Army) and carry a box of food back down there. I’ve seen them with their walkers and wheelchairs and limited gait and what not. If we can get somebody to come from here to there, to be that middle man so to speak, that’s what our purpose is,” Leake said.

“We’re very glad we’re able to partner and make this available to our community,” Angie said. “It has been a talking point since we arrived, we have been brainstorming and we’re glad to see plans come to fruition,” she added.

“We’re excited to get this started. It’s been a long time coming, just trying to figure out what to do first, and how to get the word out. We’re very blessed to be able to provide this service to our community,” Angie said. “We’re hoping that it will alleviate some of the fear of not being able to eat because it’s a reality in our community that we have seniors who aren’t eating properly or they don’t have transportation to go get it,” she added.

Angie expressed optimism that volunteers will get on board with the program and be willing to drive despite high gasoline prices.

“I believe in Jefferson County we have good-hearted people who will be willing to make a sacrifice of maybe a Dunkin or Starbucks coffee once a month and be able to deliver food to our shut-ins — volunteers who will step up and say, ‘I can do that.'”

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