by Kari West
Parsons, Kansas —
What does a community housing development organization, the Jackson County Fair, and senior citizens have in common? BEEF, it’s what’s for dinner, thanks to Homestead Affordable Housing of Holton, Kansas and it’s out-of-the-box thinking staff.
The Beef for Seniors Program began a little more than three years ago as a way to help those living on retirement income, which can sometimes be extremely limiting.
“For some, it is a monthly decision whether to buy food or to buy medicine,” said Tom Bishop, Chief Executive Officer of Homestead Affordable Housing. “We started the program because we were looking for ways to help our households.”
Homestead Affordable Housing is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit Community Housing Development Organization (CHDO) certified by the State of Kansas. It was formed in 1998 by a group of committed affordable housing professionals from across Kansas. They are governed by a Board of Directors that sets their direction and policies. Their mission is “to develop affordable housing and help rural Kansas communities achieve sustainable development.”
“Senior Housing is much more than just a nice box to live in,” Bishop said. “It’s a quality of life. It’s aging in place. It’s providing a standard for suitable living for those ages 55 and over.”
This particular program was created out of a necessity to address quality of life issues for aging residents, but has had some local economic boosts as well. First was to meet the needs of those who are struggling in this economy and who need food assistance. Second, the program helps 4-H youth and their families become engaged in projects; and last but not least, this program supports the local economy.
Once the idea for the Beef for Seniors Program was born, Homestead Affordable Housing staff began talking with the Jackson County K-State Research and Extension office to find a way to incorporate buying the beef from 4-H members during the county fair to insure that sale premiums received would cover the expense of the project, while at the same time providing meat for families in need. This proposition couldn’t have come at a better time, as the cattle and feed prices were increasing and the pay-out for premiums decreased with the downturn in the nation’s economy.
The Beef for Seniors Program is doing exactly what it was intended to do. During its first year alone, banks and contractors, who worked with Homestead Affordable Housing, pledged enough funds to provide nearly 3,200 lbs. of beef (four head) for the program. The economic payback to the community was not only through the purchase of beef; the processing took place at the local locker, and the stand alone freezers purchased for each of the housing office locations were purchased through the local appliance store too, Bishop explained.
By year two, the program offered 5,800 lbs. of beef to its residents. This year, the program more than doubled its original size with 10.5 head of cattle being purchased and more than 7,208 lbs. of meat processed. Since 2009, around 42 4-Hers have benefitted from the premium assistance linked to this food assistance program.
The program is nearly a perfect fit for the small community that sits in the heart of Jackson County population 12,000. There are six times as many cattle in Jackson County than people. But despite this small town’s size, the program impacts eight communities across the state of Kansas including its hometown of Holton, Wamego, Junction City, Atchison, Harper, Augusta, Haysville and Mulvane. As this story is being published, a senior living project in Marion, Kan., will also be added to the program. Due to the amount of beef and the delivery freezer capacity, it takes two different runs to make all of the distributions, a northern route and a southern route.
Each year after the fair, meat is distributed to the senior residential communities that Homestead Affordable Housing serves. While Homestead Affordable Housing’s program delivers the meat, each residential community handles distribution differently. “There is meat available well beyond the initial delivery,” Bishop said. “Everyone gets something for their freezers.”
While the program is free to the residents of the senior housing complexes, the site managers are in charge of distribution. Because of that, each community is able to serve its population as they need it. Many choose to distribute the beef much like commodity food distributions or area food pantries and often times; they’ll furnish meat for community events such as steak fries, chili feeds and cook-offs.
The residents benefitting from the program are very appreciative. Homestead Affordable Housing staff receives several handwritten thank you notes with stories of the program success. “This is not something they expect, or even something they asked for,” he added. “At the end of the day, it is just nice to know that we are making a difference in the world.”
While Homestead Affordable Housing plans to continue its Beef for Seniors Program, its staff is challenging other communities across the state to get involved in their own programs. Bishop said many times businesses and individuals show up wanting to help. He suggests that communities wanting to replicate this program start by getting them to consider paying the meat price and processing and consider donating the meat to a community food bank or a local senior center.
The Beef for Seniors Program is non-traditional food assistance program and funded through the generosity of individuals and corporate partners who make donations to Homestead Affordable Housing. “We are a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and we can accept tax-deductible gifts,” Bishop said. “But not near enough donations are received to pay for the program. However, because we believe in it, Homestead will continue to offset the costs.”
For those who would like make a difference in the lives of seniors in Kansas and help sustain the program while supporting 4-Hers in the beef project, go online to http://www. home steadks.org and click on the donate button. Or mail tax-deductible contributions to Homestead Affordable Housing, 115 W. 4th St., Holton, KS 66436 or call (785) 364-0110.£