What is the ‘Dining Out’ program?

Seniors have options of where to eat

STATE – There is a food program that could bring new options to seniors as an alternative to dining in any of the counties senior centers: “Dining Out.”

While each County Commission on Aging (COA) is different, each has the same purpose – to improve the quality of life for people over 60. Many people are familiar with one of their nutrition programs, Meals-on-Wheels, where healthy meals are delivered to the homebound clients’ residence.

In addition, congregate meals are served in a group setting, often at the local senior center; “Dining Out” allows congregate meals at restaurants.

Because COAs are run by individual counties, the availability of the program, and the way it is run, is a little different for each. But the criteria for each county is the same:

·        Restaurants need to be willing to participate and provide a menu which is approved by a County dietician;

·        Meal coupons are purchased from the COA at a cost of around $3 (the price varies by county);

·        Only approved meals can be purchased with the coupon; and

·        The restaurant is reimbursed $6 for each coupon they turn into the COA.

COAs receive grants from the federal and state government to provide congregate meals, which the Dining Out program falls under.

“It’s a win-win situation for the senior,” said Cynthia Ingalls of the Kalkaska County COA.

They started the program around six years ago when they had to close the Blue Lake Township and Coldsprings/Excelsior Townships satellite meal programs.

There are four locations in Kalkaska County that the coupons can be used at: BC Pizza, Trout Town, and the two Shirly’s Restaurants.

“We are happy with the program,” said Katie Hammontree, owner of the Kalkaska BC Pizza. “They’re guaranteed to get a good meal. I think it’s a good way to help the seniors.”

But not all counties participate in the Dining Out program, for different reasons.

In Ogemaw County, no one has asked for it according to Carol Gillman, Ogemaw County COA director.

Crawford County COA has been asked about the program according to Director Alice Snyder, but they don’t currently offer it.

“We have not had time to put the program together,” Snyder said. “It has been on our to-do list.”

Snyder said they are currently looking to hire a Nutrition Manager, and hopes that the person hired could get the program running.

In Roscommon County, people have asked for it, but the county is not eligible according to COA director, Tom Pettit.

“You can’t just have the program,” Pettit said. “There has to have a sufficient need that the Council has to meet.”

Examples he gave was having too far to drive to a congregate meal site, or having a site open only three days a week.

“With three centers open five days a week, we can’t say we aren’t meeting the needs,” Pettit said.

According to Pettit these are regulations set by the State of Michigan Department of Adult & Aging Services.

“We have looked into it,” Pettit continued. “COA in Roscommon (County) is adequately meeting the needs of our senior population between the Meals on Wheels and our congregate sites.”

“If we have three centers that we aren’t utilizing right now, why would we want to utilize (the Dining Out program)?

But that still leaves some seniors frustrated.

As William Levi of Roscommon noted in a letter to the editor on page 4, “I feel Crawford and Roscommon Counties should utilize this program. At the senior centers I am made to feel a lot older than I am. I know I am not alone feeling like this.”

At least one Roscommon restaurant owner is very willing to utilize the program.

“I want to be a part of it! I want to do it,” Marc McKee of BC Pizza in Roscommon said.

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