By Rob Montana
Non-profit organizations are plentiful throughout Tompkins County, and make a big impact in our communities. Despite their contributions, area non-profits can sometimes go unnoticed or unknown. In an effort to shine a spotlight on those who are making a difference in our county, Tompkins Weekly will be showcasing these organizations on a regular basis.
This week we are highlighting Foodnet Meals on Wheels, which is based in Ithaca but serves Tompkins County. To learn more about the organization, we interviewed Jessica Gosa, executive director of the non-profit.
Tompkins Weekly: What is your mission?
Jessica Gosa: Foodnet Meals on Wheels’ mission is to provide meals and other nutrition services that promote dignity, well-being and independence for older adults and other persons in-need in Tompkins County.
TW: How do you fulfill that mission?
JG: Adequate nutrition is essential for healthy aging, and prevention or delay of chronic disease. Almost 90 percent of older adults have a nutrition-related chronic disease or condition. About 40 percent of community dwelling older adults have inadequate food and nutrient intake, which affects their health and ability to function independently.
Foodnet provides approximately 700 daily meals to more than 400 older adults and others in-need throughout Tompkins County, so our neighbors live a life without hunger and isolation. Foodnet’s services offer more than meal. Our meal delivery drivers provide a friendly visit, and ensure that Foodnet participants are safe. Foodnet also offers social dining opportunities where participants can enjoy a meal at one of the four congregate meal sites: Titus Towers, Groton Center Village Courts, Lansing Woodsedge Apartments, or First Baptist Church in Trumansburg. The social dining rooms provide human connection, nutrition education, and meaningful volunteer opportunities.
TW: What are the biggest challenges your organization faces?
JG: Funding limitations, and ongoing infrastructure needs are undoubtedly challenges for all community non-profits. During the course of a year, we serve more than 160,000 meals. With nine meal delivery routes and four group dining sites, well-functioning kitchen equipment and meal delivery vans are critical to fulfilling our mission. Infrastructure challenges can truly disrupt the daily operations of the organization. However, the Foodnet staff, board, and community supporters help to balance these challenges with their ongoing commitment, creativity and support.
Another challenge specific to Foodnet is adjusting to changing demographics. By 2050, the older adult population will nearly double, and the demand for nutrition services will likely expand. However, client dietary needs, and meal preferences continue to evolve. Ensuring diverse menu items, and expanding alternative diet accommodations with limited resources is a challenge. Foodnet is currently identifying organizational priorities, which will be incorporated into a larger strategic planning process to take place during the year.
TW: What is something people do not know about your organization?
JG: All meals are prepared fresh in Foodnet’s kitchen. Foodnet’s recipes and menus are created by our food services operations manager and registered dietitian, which follow the latest American Dietetic Association guidelines. Foodnet encourages voluntary contributions for services, but no one is ever turned away because of inability to pay. Foodnet also serves individuals under the age of 60 through participating third-party payer contracts.
TW: How can people best support your mission?
JG: I am continually inspired by the dedication of the Foodnet staff, board, volunteers, community partners and supporters. There are many opportunities to engage with our organization through volunteerism, board commitment, gifts, and simply referring our services to someone that would benefit.
We also encourage our community to visit our new website www.foodnet.org or give us a call to learn more about the organization.