SARATOGA/WILTON — Ben Buffa, the Saratoga-Wilton Elks Lodge Senior Outreach Committee Chairman, started the senior outreach program almost two years ago when he moved to the area.
Originally, he was just offering rides to doctors for some people he knew who were struggling. Now, the program provides upwards of a dozen meals twice a month to over 100 seniors throughout the area.
“I moved into a senior apartment,” Buffa said. “I noticed that I was one of the younger people there, a lot of people were in their 80’s to early 90’s who were having a hard time, who were living close to the poverty line, maybe even below, a lot of them didn’t have transportation and they didn’t have family members around to support them.”
He said that because they needed to pay for transportation to get to their various doctor appointments, some were choosing between their appointments and eating. One day, Buffa noticed after a drive that the senior looked sad.
“And I said, ‘Shirley, what’s wrong?’” Buffa said. “And she said ‘well, it’s not quite the end of the month, I don’t get my next check until the first week of the month, so I’m going to go 10 to 14 days without money to buy food.’”
Thus, the senior outreach program began, starting with eight seniors that Buffa already knew would benefit from it. According to Buffa, the program’s mission is simply to help people in need.
“So that worked well, and then I began to realize that there was more opportunity out there,” Buffa said. “I had some friends living in Embury, I had some friends living in Northern Pines, both senior apartment complexes, and I began talking to them if they thought this is something that would be useful there. And I got a resounding ‘yes, that would be great!’”
Since the beginning, the program has expanded greatly. Now, Buffa works with around 17 volunteers who pick up food from all of the pantries that have partnered with the program.
The volunteers also collect produce from Pitney Meadows Community Farm and use funds from the program’s community impact grant to buy whatever food the pantries are missing.
The network of seniors the program delivers to has also expanded greatly. Now, volunteers go to five senior living centers twice a month to deliver nine to 12 meals worth of food to each of the approximately 120 seniors.
“It’s amazing how all of these pieces have fallen into place over time,” Buffa said. “It started with me ending up moving here, it started with me figuring out that there were seniors who had medical issues, and then food, and then realizing that I needed some help, I needed an organization that could be the vehicle to have this expand.”
In addition to the senior living centers, the program also now delivers food for 80 to 100 of the Backstretch workers at Saratoga Racecourse, since many of the workers also suffer from food insecurity.
Betsy DeCerbo Coffey, the senior outreach program’s Public Relations Coordinator, said that the volunteers go to the pantries on Friday afternoon, pick up whatever perishables like bread and fruit remain, and bring it to the Backstretch, since it would simply be thrown out otherwise.
Even in the winter, the program continues to deliver food to the seniors. Buffa said that they may delay delivery for a day if the weather is too poor; however, they have not outright missed a delivery in the entirety of the program’s life, thus far.
Buffa said that with the newer Community Impact grant, they are also able to outright buy produce from the likes of Walmart, so even when the local farms stop producing for the season, they are also to provide fresh produce to the seniors.
He said that for the future, they are looking to continue expanding, ideally to a nationwide program. In preparation for the future, he said that they have been talking to an attorney, so that they know their options.
Buffa said that the grants and attorney were important so that they do not over commit the program. He emphasized that while they want to grow, they want to do so in an “orderly and safe way.”
For more information, contact DeCerbo Coffey at 901-230-6868.