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Harvesters Serving More Seniors In Kansas City, Offering More Fresh Produce

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Kansas City-based Harvesters Community Food Network has seen its elderly clients more than double in the past few years.

The organization says today about 20 percent of those receiving food from  the agencies Harvesters serves are seniors.

Harvesters provides food to more than 600 not-for-profits in 26 counties in Kansas and Missouri.

Many in the rapidly growing elderly population are on fixed incomes or have health problems that require them to divert scarce financial resources to medicine or doctors' bills.

Harvesters spokesman Sarah Biles says the organization is modifying some of its food delivery programs to accommodate the growing elderly population.

“We’ve actually acquired a former city bus from Topeka and were gonna be transforming that into a mobile pantry that will be able to go out and distribute to even more seniors who have a hard time getting out," she says.

As Harvesters looks toward the new year, Biles says the agency also will be looking to enhance its distribution of fresh produce.

Many of Harvesters' clients live in so-called food deserts, where access to fresh food is limited. Fresh food also is typically more expensive.

Biles says the food industry is helping out by donating more fresh produce. Increases are coming from farmers as well.

“We’re really reaching out to farmers around the region who might have extra produce they’re not able to sell to grocery vendors, or who have extra rows of product with the intent of donating it.”

A national program called “Invest an Acre” started several years ago that encourages farmers to plant a few extra rows of food so they can donate it to hunger-relief agencies.

Biles says Harvesters is working with local community gardeners to do the same.

Recent favorable economic news doesn’t necessarily mean food needs are decreasing. For example, Kansas City’s new, relatively low unemployment numbers include many low wage jobs and jobs with limited or no health benefits.   People with these jobs still often must choose between paying for rent, utilities or food.

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can find her on Twitter, @laurazig and at zieglerl@umkc.edu.

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