Senior Food Box Pilot Program: What We Learned & Next Steps

senior couple shows food recieved at a mobile pantry

In 2021, Feeding America West Michigan piloted a senior food box program called Golden Groceries. The program provided seniors in need with two boxes of shelf-stable, supplemental groceries during the month. The boxes were distributed in partnership with three local agencies.

Below, read five things we learned by piloting this program that will help us in the future, as we aim to improve and expand efforts to serve seniors experiencing food insecurity across West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

5 Things the Food Bank Learned from the Pilot

1. Overall, Clients Enjoyed the Program

Most clients said the program helped them access more fruits and vegetables.

  • 96% enjoyed eating the included canned produce items, and 94% said the food tasted good.
  • 53% of clients from one agency, and 94% from another said Golden Groceries helped them eat more produce each month.
  • At one agency, 62% of clients surveyed after the program said their health was ‘good’ or better, compared to 39% prior to the program.

2. Clients Want a Wider Variety of Foods

Each month, the boxes contained many of the same shelf-stable staples. Clients shared how they wished more variety was available, and particularly desired a variety of fruits and vegetables.

3. Clients Could Use More Food

Senior participants received two 50-pound boxes of food each month, which were meant to supplement food they could access through other means. From the study, we learned clients would like more food to decrease the number of trips they need to take to a grocery store or to another hunger-relief program such as a food pantry—which costs gas and time.

Although 86% of program participants reported having access to a grocery store, 35-45% said they couldn’t afford to purchase a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables. If a future iteration of Golden Groceries could provide more food, seniors would be able to stretch their food budget further during the month.

4. Clients Desired Additional Resources

Along with food, program participants received a monthly newsletter highlighting ways items in the box could be prepared. The last box included a cookbook and a few small kitchen tools, in response to this feedback from program participants.

Clients hoped that in the future they could also receive additional information in their boxes, such as nutrition guides or info about food pantries near them.

5. Our Current Space Isn’t Equipped to Make These Improvements

Due to inadequate space and volunteers at our current facility, the food bank is not continuing or expanding the program—yet. If it makes sense for our partners, clients and staff, we plan to expand and improve it once we move into our new facility. Right now, renovations to that facility are being funded by our Nourish Tomorrow campaign. Until then, our team is reflecting on what we learned from the pilot so we can improve the program going forward.

In the meantime, we’ve partnered with hunger-relief programs providing senior food boxes through a federal program, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. Depending on the needs of our clients and partners, we may choose to expand our work with CSFP, as opposed to Golden Groceries, in order to sufficiently meet the needs of seniors in our community. Either way, we will rely on the funds raised through the Nourish Tomorrow advancement campaign to expand services to seniors in need.

This pilot program was made possible by support from the Feeding America national organization.

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Story written by Communication and Marketing Specialist Juliana Ludema.