Food Pantries: Critical Amenity for Affordable, Senior Communities

As the need for food becomes greater, property managers are taking a more holistic approach, according to Wendover Management's Lynn Edmondson.

Lynn Edmondson  Image courtesy of Wendover Management

According to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies annual State of the Nation’s Housing report, nearly 39 million households have high housing cost burdens, creating a very real struggle to pay rent and put food on the table.

As money gets tight, more often than not, food is what gets cut. Statistics bear out that hunger in America is an increasing problem. A report by the national nonprofit Hunger Free America, based on an analysis of federal data, revealed that nearly 10 percent of working adults—a total of nearly 15 million people—live in homes that can’t always afford enough food. This report also found that more than 17 percent of children and nearly 8 percent of older Americans (adults 60 years and older) live in food insecure households.

The lack of availability and access to nutritious food is an economic and social condition that is increasingly impacting residents of affordable and senior communities throughout the nation. As the need for food becomes greater, affordable and senior housing property managers are taking a more holistic approach—including instituting food pantries—to serving residents and supporting their well-being.

Recognizing the need

Residents at affordable and senior properties are increasingly finding that after paying rent, utilities and other monthly bills, there is little money left in their budget and begin cutting corners on food to stretch their limited dollars. This food insecurity is one of the driving factors in the need for food pantries in these communities. 

Accessibility to food is another issue spurring the need for food pantries. Access to reliable transportation is a problem that impacts access to food, as does the struggle to transport groceries from store to residence for the disabled and seniors with mobility issues.  

Property managers at affordable and senior communities seeing these challenges first-hand can spearhead efforts to create food pantries on their properties to help residents facing economic hardships and accessibility issues.

Establishing a food pantry

One of the first considerations for establishing a food pantry at affordable and senior communities is to assess the space available for this purpose. A closet in a community room can be a good option to store food and necessities for residents. This space provides a convenient, self-serve option, allowing residents to access food during property office hours and can be monitored by property managers to ensure the even distribution of food. The designated area should also include plenty of shelving to organize food, and a refrigerator and freezer are critical to ensure that food does not spoil and go to waste.  

Vegetable garden at a Wendover Property. Image courtesy of Wendover Management

A key element to keeping food pantries stocked at affordable and senior properties are partnerships with large food banks, local churches and private organizations. Many of these organizations will bring the food to the property for dispersal to residents. Keep in mind that private agencies and churches may be more active partners during the holiday season as their collection drives are often geared toward this time of year.

A typical stocked pantry should include everything from canned foods―like soup, chicken, tuna and vegetables; to dry goods, like cereals, crackers, pasta, rice and breads; to a variety of fresh fruits, including apples, oranges and bananas. Properties with access to deep freezers can even offer residents meat and other frozen foods.

Beyond food pantries, some affordable and senior properties are providing nutritional meals to residents in a “meal-in-a-bag” system that contains all ingredients for a meal as well as recipe preparation instructions, making it easy for residents to pick up a bag, take it home and make a healthy meal. Some properties are even helping residents grow herbs and vegetables through planting and cultivating  community gardens. Other properties are taking an educational approach to helping residents prepare nutritious food by partnering with local colleges to offer nutrition and cooking classes that teach them how to make healthy meals.

Food pantries and other assistance programs help ensure that food and shelter is not an either-or choice for these residents.

Lynn Edmondson is regional manager of Wendover Management.

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