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Senior nutrition programs that deliver hot meals to the door serve as lifelines for homebound seniors, as drivers also check their welfare and provide a little company in addition to the nutritious meals.

For low-income, active seniors, the programs provide hot meals and camaraderie.

A recent partnership between CenCal Health, the Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County and the Senior Nutrition Program of San Luis Obispo County will enable such programs to continue through 2016.

“This is a big deal,” said Community Action Commission Executive Director Fran Forman. "This is wonderful. We struggle every single year with raising the money, and without this support I honestly know we’d be again scraping by and struggling."

The Santa Barbara County program serves 150,000 meals per year to some 700 homebound seniors and another 700 who gather at any of 11 Healthy Table centers throughout the county.

North County locations include Guadalupe, Lompoc, Orcutt and three sites in Santa Maria.

That program operates on a $600,000-per-year budget, Forman said, and coming up with those funds is always a struggle.

“Senior programs are not an easy sell,” Forman said. "It’s not as easy to raise money for senior programs as it is for kids, but I think they’re just as important, maybe more. The way a society treats its seniors is very telling about that society."

The partnership also will help fund 36,500 meals to 100 seniors through the Senior Nutrition Program of San Luis Obispo County.

That program prepares approximately 600 meals five days a week for delivery to the homebound or served in one of 10 dining room sites throughout the county, including one in Nipomo and another in Oceano.

“These meals enhance health, reduce isolation and increase the socialization of our seniors,” said Elias Nimeh, executive director of the Senior Nutrition Program of SLO County.

“We commend CenCal Health for acknowledging the importance of nutrition in health for a population that faces a number of obstacles that come with poor nutrition.”

In Santa Barbara County, 34.3 percent of seniors live below the Elder Index, a measure of poverty devised by gerontological experts using such widely accepted and credible national and state data sources as the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The index provides an evidence-based indicator of the actual basic costs faced by older adults.

“These meals serve as a lifeline for seniors, many of whom are forced to pick between medical care and food,” Forman said. "We’re honored to work together with CenCal Health to ensure local seniors get the proper nutrition they need to stay healthy."

Hunger rates have risen for low-income seniors living on the Central Coast, causing nutrition and hunger to become the No. 1 issue for local seniors.

According to “Needs of an Aging Community,” published in 2013 by the Central Coast Commission for Senior Citizens, 37 percent of low-income seniors, 21 percent of seniors living alone and 27 percent of seniors with physical impairments ranked food and meals as their No. 1 need.

“Most of the people we serve are people who worked their entire lives,” Forman said. "We’re very motivated to do this work."

Rising hunger rates among seniors pose significant public health consequences, as persistent hunger and malnutrition can lead to chronic diseases, expensive hospitalization and indefinite nursing home residence.

“As a growing segment of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties' population, it’s critical that our community empowers seniors to maintain their health and live independently for as long as possible,” said Bob Freeman, CEO of CenCal Health.

"This collaboration represents the beginning of what we hope is a long-term partnership between CenCal Health, CAC and the Senior Nutrition Program of SLO County, valuable community-based organizations serving the Central Coast’s vulnerable seniors," he said.

The partnership with CAC and the Senior Nutrition Program launches as CenCal Health is in the process of developing a special needs program for seniors.

The program would allow it to provide the full spectrum of health care benefits to low-income seniors who qualify for both Medicare and Medi-Cal. The program is slated to launch in 2018.

For members of the community interested in joining CenCal Health in supporting the two organizations, Community Action Commission’s Champions Dinner will be held June 2 at Hotel Corque in Solvang.

More information is available at www.cacsb.com

The Senior Nutrition Program’s annual fundraiser “Jeans & Jewels” will be held May 21 at The Cliffs at Shell Beach. For more information, visit www.snpslo.org or call 541-3312.

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