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AARP Foundation Awards Nearly $200,000 to Montana State University and Gallatin Valley Food Bank

AARP Foundation recently awarded $3.7 million in grants to ten non-profit organizations across the United States, and a partnership between the Human Resource Development Council’s Gallatin Valley Food Bank (GVFB) and Montana State University received one of the Hunger Innovation Grants totaling $199,239. Assistant professor of food and nutrition, Carmen Byker, and Lori Christenson, program manager of the GVFB, partnered to write the two-year grant, which examines how to improve food security and the wellbeing of rural seniors in southwest Montana.

The project called Cultivating, Accessible, Affordable, Adequate, and Appropriate Nutrition for Seniors Project, or CAAAANS for short, is a collaborative community-academic effort that brings together several existing Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) programs and MSU staff and students to provide needed services to rural seniors.

The HRDC’s Senior Empowerment Initiative combines the nutrition services of the Gallatin Valley Food Bank, the in-home health checks of the Homemaker Program, and the volunteer energy of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) with the door-to-door transportation services of Galavan. The integral partnership with MSU will bring a student-run mobile farm stand, intergenerational interactions, and culinary collaborations to outlying communities.

“The mobile farm stand will bring fresh produce from MSU’s Towne’s Harvest Garden to seniors age 50 and older in these communities,” said Byker, “and the GVFB will supplement food outside the growing season while HRDC’s Homemaker Program will work with students to strategize ways for seniors to utilize mobile market foods in-home.”

Two other faculty members from MSU’s Department of Health and Human Development are working on the project as well. Alison Harmon, associate professor of food and nutrition, will work with MSU students to study learning outcomes from developing a mobile farm stand and examine intergenerational interactions. Dawn Tarabochia, assistant professor in community health, will examine the social and psychological wellness of seniors and explore how social networks help seniors procure food in rural areas. The trio of professors will host focus groups and conduct surveys to collect data.

“We’re also organizing a planning council that will involve local organizations, businesses, and community members with a vested interest in the health and well-being of our community’s seniors and local food security to help steer the project,” said Christenson. “The planning council will help determine when, where, and what kind of foods to supply to the farm stand and explore ways to sustain the project beyond the life of the grant.”

MSU students will be actively involved, says Byker. Four MSU students will be hired for marketing, coordinating, and researching the mobile farm stand. Undergraduate students are using the program as community service learning projects, such as a community needs assessment and recipe development. MSU Dietetic Interns will help assess nutritional risk for seniors involved with Human Resource Development Council’s (HRDC) Homemaker Services.

Byker said, “AARP Foundation awards the Hunger Innovation projects to a select few non-profit organizations, and they really liked the integration of the Food Bank and other HRDC programs with Montana State University.”

AARP Foundation is working to win back opportunity for struggling Americans 50+ by being a force for change on the most serious issues they face today: housing, hunger, income and isolation. By coordinating responses to these issues on all four fronts at once, and supporting them with vigorous legal advocacy, the Foundation serves the unique needs of those 50+ while working with local organizations nationwide to reach more people, work more efficiently and make resources go further. AARP Foundation is the charitable affiliate of AARP.

Local organizations, businesses and community members who are interested in serving on the planning council can contact Lori Christenson of the Gallatin Valley Food Bank at lori@gallatinvalleyfoodbank.org or Carmen Byker of MSU at carmen.byker@montana.edu for more information.

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