The Otsego County Office for the Aging hopes to expand a program it started last year that allows seniors to eat at local restaurants for their senior meal.
“We started this program in March 2021 as an alternate option because our senior dining sites were closed due to the pandemic,” Tamie Reed, OFA director, said. “It was a program that we had been looking to start anyway, so it seemed like an optimal time. This program was a way for us to still provide a nutritious meal while our dining centers were closed and at the same time, support local businesses who were struggling due to the pandemic. Because the restaurants had to adhere to cleaning protocol, seniors could safely access a meal without us gathering groups of vulnerable seniors together at one time.”
The county Board of Representatives passed a resolution Wednesday, Dec. 7, to fund the program in 2023 for $10,000.
She said the program also offered seniors more flexibility and options than the traditional senior dining centers because seniors could have a meal any time the restaurant was open and could use the ticket while out with family or friends. The program allows Otsego County seniors age 60 and older to apply for and receive six tickets per month good for a meal at a participating restaurant.
According to a flier about the program, in order to qualify the person must be 60 years or older or married to someone who is 60 years or older and must be an Otsego County resident. Individuals with a disability under the age of 60 who live with an eligible participant are also eligible to participate when accompanying the eligible participant. Seniors must register for the program. Seniors must present the ticket at the restaurant prior to ordering and the tip for the server is not included. Seniors are also asked to pay $3.50 toward their meal. Meal tickets must be signed and dated to ensure restaurants get compensation. Tickets expire after 90 days of issuance. Each ticket is good for one OFA-approved senior meal.
Reed said participating restaurant owners work with the OFA registered dietician “to create a menu with meals that meet one-third of the daily nutritional value. We start with meals from their existing menu and just make a few small changes.” For example a cup of fruit or side salad would replace home fries or French fries, she said.
She said Jackie’s Restaurant in Milford and the Red Door in West Winfield have been participating in the program from the very beginning, and her office is looking for more restaurants to participate. She said 65 seniors have participated in the program so far.
The program is open to any restaurant in Otsego County that wants to participate. “However, we are required to ensure that the restaurant is handicap accessible and we also take into consideration factors such as parking availability,” she said. “We do have a cost limit on how much we can reimburse for each meal, so that will impact some restaurants and also the type of meal” offered to seniors.
Workforce at the restaurants has been “the biggest barrier to program success,” Reed said. “We have approached several diners/mom and pop restaurants and many are excited about the program, but because the owners are often the cooks/managers/waitstaff, etc. they are doing their best already just to keep their business alive. We’ve seen three restaurants that were either in the process of working with us or already signed up, close their doors. I think if we had more restaurants to choose from, we would see better participation.”
The restaurant program is in addition to the senior meal congregate sites OFA offers at Nader Towers in Oneonta, the Café at the Old School in Cherry Valley and Richfield Springs Community Center, she said.