PROVIDENCE, RI – Starting this summer, eligible Rhode Island seniors in need will be able to receive free, bulk boxes of healthy food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to prepare and enjoy at home.  The packages of nutritious food, meant to help seniors supplement their diet, will be distributed thanks to a new federal-state partnership that was made possible by U.S. Senator Jack Reed and is being administered by the Rhode Island Community Food Bank in conjunction with the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs. 

Today, Senator Reed joined representatives from the Rhode Island Community Food Bank, the USDA, and the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs to launch a new senior nutrition initiative in the state, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP). 

The partnership between USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the RI Division of Elderly Affairs, and the Food Bank -- made possible through a legislative boost from Senator Reed -- will help the Food Bank distribute boxes of nutritious USDA commodities on a monthly basis to seniors in need as part of the federally-funded CSFP, which provides monthly food assistance specifically targeted to low-income seniors.

The contents of the box will change each month, based on what is available through the USDA, but will include a variety of canned vegetables and fruit, beans, cereal, pasta, rice, and other items.  The food package provided by CSFP is intended to supplement the diet of seniors, providing healthy options to help seniors meet their dietary needs for essential nutrients like protein, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and fiber.  

Eligibility for the food boxes is based on income and age.  Recipients must be at least 60 years old and their monthly income must be less than 130% of the Federal Poverty Guideline (not exceeding $1,276 per month if single or $1,726 per month if married).

Senator Reed, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, worked at the federal level to successfully insert language into the Fiscal Year 2015 Agriculture Appropriations bill making it possible for Rhode Island to start participating in CSFP, along with six other states that did not have the program.  Thanks to Senator Reed’s efforts, the state will receive USDA commodities to distribute directly to Rhode Island seniors and over $100,000 in federal funding to help administer the program.

In 2013, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank distributed 9.9 million pounds of food, and each month more than 63,000 Rhode Islanders seek food assistance.  According to the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger, one out of eight Rhode Island seniors faced the threat of hunger in 2013.

“This is a proven, effective program that fills important nutrition gaps for hungry seniors who may not be able to afford enough healthy food on their own.  I am pleased to help bring this program to Rhode Island.  And I appreciate the hard work of the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs and Andrew Schiff and his team at the Rhode Island Community Food Bank for playing critical roles in getting it up and running.  The Food Bank does an outstanding job of distributing food and serving people with respect and dignity, and I am hopeful we can raise awareness about this program and help reach more seniors in need,” said Senator Reed, who helped appropriate $211.5 million in FY 2015 for CSFP nationwide.  This funding will support over 600,000 caseload slots in participating states and more than $44 million in state administrative grants.  In FY 2015, Rhode Island has been allocated 2,000 caseload slots and will receive an estimated $110,669 in administrative grant funding to carry out the program.

“Too many Rhode Islanders are struggling and we must all do our part to help our neighbors and ensure seniors have access to the healthy food they need,” said Governor Raimondo. “On behalf of the State, I want to thank Senator Reed, the USDA, the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs, and the Rhode Island Community Food Bank for their leadership to make this important initiative possible. Through this collaboration, we are building a stronger, healthier Rhode Island.”

“At the Food Bank, twenty percent of the 63,000 people we serve each month are over 60 years old,” said Andrew Schiff, CEO of the Food Bank.  “Thanks to Senator Reed’s efforts, the CSFP program has been expanded to include Rhode Island and six other states.  This funding will allow us to partner with the Division of Elderly Affairs and the USDA to provide this vulnerable population with healthy food and nutrition education to help them remain independent and healthy.”

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture is honored that Rhode Island will be participating in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program,” said Kurt Messner, acting regional administrator for the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.  “This federal nutrition program strives to improve health by supplementing seniors’ diets with nutritious USDA commodity foods. Once enrolled, eligible seniors will receive a box of nutritionally balanced supplemental food every month.”

The Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs will help to facilitate and raise awareness about the program.  The first food deliveries are expected to take place sometime this summer.

The USDA commodity foods included in the food boxes are all U.S. grown and produced products.  While the cost to the USDA to provide the food package is about $20 per month, the average retail value of the package provided to seniors often exceeds $50 per month.