When asked what role Foodnet serves in Tompkins County, Executive Director Jessica Gosa got to the heart of the matter.
“Nationally, 33% of all seniors admitted to the hospital have a malnutrition-related diagnosis,” she said. “Approximately $51 billion of healthcare spending is attributed to senior malnutrition. The cost of an entire year of Meals on Wheels for one senior citizen is the same cost as one night in the hospital or 10 days in a nursing facility.”
The choice is up to all Americans: how do we want to spend our money? For those of us in this county, the answer Jessica and her hard-working, committed team of staff and volunteers are providing is a shining example of doing it right: saving money while saving lives.
In one small, nondescript building, delicious and nutritious meals for 600 people are prepared by two full-time cooks and support staff for person-to-person delivery five days a week.
Volunteers (gathered from churches, the Human Services Coalition, Lifelong, Office of the Aging and motivated do-gooders) and Foodnet drivers assist as needed with cooking and packing of meals for delivery.
Malnutrition and food insecurity for older adults (i.e., not knowing where the next meal will come from) has many causes.
“People weighed down by grief (often following loss of a loved one), physical limitations (which may make standing up to prepare food difficult) or being unable to shop are all barriers,” Jessica said. “Sometimes a family member is sick and special dietary needs are too difficult for the family caretaker.
Cognitive challenges … cause days to bleed together or make one forget what time a person last ate. Forgetting to take medication may also prevent adults from getting essential nutrition to stay healthy.”
Preparing and delivering home meals is approximately 75% of Foodnet’s invaluable program. In 2019, more than 600 older adults received hot, nutritious meals five days a week.
Extra sandwich meals and frozen weekend meals are available so that seniors do not find cupboards bare. While eligible Foodnet clients are encouraged to make a voluntary contribution toward their meal, no one is turned away for lack of payment.
Foodnet has contracts with Managed Long Term Care Insurances and the Department of Social Services and can also accept SNAP vouchers, which offer additional payment options.
Foodnet Dietitian Kelly Quinn ensures that nutritional issues are addressed for all clients with assessment, counseling and education. Working with case manager Lisa Krueger-Gavin, referral coordination for other community services are provided to help older adults maintain their independence.
Foodnet works quietly and energetically to keep the safety net intact. Social dining (congregate dining) is the second way senior nutrition is addressed. Jessica’s team delivers group meals to Center Village Court in Groton and to Titus Towers Monday through Friday.
To reach more seniors and keep mealtime lively and fun, Foodnet staffer Linda Tallman has also been inviting other agencies and organizations to speak about their programs (Love Living at Home, Human Services Coalition, CFCU, etc.). Bringing this information and education into the dining room has been popular.
Foodnet also partners with the YMCA (a nearby neighbor). Thursdays on Senior Dollar Day at this county’s marvelous YMCA, seniors can take aquatic classes and other favorites, play Pickleball and also enjoy a meal catered by Foodnet in the Community Room. We see seniors greeting others and pulling their tables together to discuss their exercise that day. Anyone 60 years of age or older can dine, contributing what they can.
Stephen Griffin founded Foodnet 33 years ago and set the tone and work ethic for all those years. A much-admired, supportive board searched long and hard to find Jessica. The admiration is mutual.
“This is a wonderful board - mission-driven and very diverse in every way,” Jessica said. “Board members are critical to the sustainability and ongoing growth of the organization; they volunteer throughout the year and share their networks and expertise.”
Foodnet has found that having stable, reliable, committed drivers deliver the hot meals is a crucial part of the program.
“When meals arrive each day and are delivered by the same driver, an essential bond is formed. This is where the magic happens,” Jessica said. “Drivers get to know their clients and are the eyes and ears for unmet needs and concerns.”
Foodnet drivers are mostly part-time, and many are retired from all kinds of work. An attorney, executive chef, and director of facilities put in daily mileage. Many of Foodnet’s staff have a longtime tenure, and the low turnover rate reflects a well-run program with lots of team spirit.
“When you devote yourself to a mission, one is able to achieve an authentic, caring relationship with clients,” Jessica said. “Foodnet is relationship-based, and drivers form strong, caring relationships because their interest in our client’s well-being is authentic.”
Jessica Gosa has been in the business of community service her entire adult life and brought the ideal background to this successful organization. Her work history and expertise in program evaluation, social work and administration is her foundation, expanded through her M.S.W. degree and gerontology fellowship she completed in graduate school.
She and husband Travis have an elementary-schooler. Having such a broad-based background enriched this strong organization. Summing up her first three years as executive director of Tompkins County’s Foodnet, Jessica modestly commented: “I am honored to be with Foodnet.”
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