A significant portion of US adults over age 60 suffer from social isolation and food insecurity. Congregate meal programs offer social interaction with peers, nutrition services, health education, and other activities tailored to the needs of seniors, but participation in these programs has declined dramatically in recent years across Texas and nationally. In collaboration with the Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas A&M Mays Business School, PPRI is helping 16 community-based congregate meal providers develop and test low-cost innovations that will increase congregate meal participation and expand benefits to seniors. If successful, the improvements can be scaled statewide and nationally.

To learn existing barriers and facilitators to serving seniors in urban and rural communities, the project first surveyed older Americans, healthcare workers, and senior-serving organizations, then conducted 29 focus groups with congregate meal providers in the state’s 28 Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) regions. Sixteen local nutrition providers were then selected to form a Learning Collaborative. Following kick-off in a three-day virtual workshop, the pilot sites received technical assistance to learn from each other and from subject matter experts as they planned innovations in the areas of technology-based programing, wellness education, branding, and creative dining.

When the new program components are implemented beginning in the fall of 2021, PPRI will track successes and challenges, and make recommendations to stakeholders, policy makers, and researchers for broad-based dissemination. The Learning Collaboratives were featured by the federal Administration for Community Living as a “best practice” example at the 2021 Conference of the National Council on Aging. Findings are set to be presented at key state and national conferences in 2020-2021.