DANVILLE — Seniors can still have healthy meals without leaving home, thanks to Faith in Action.
Volunteers with the ministry will visit homes of eligible seniors to help them order groceries online through Instacart, a grocery delivery and pickup service.
“That’s the best part — we’re trying to help people age in place,” said Johnson Flanagan, coordinator of Faith in Action, a service of OSF HealthCare Sacred Heart Medical Center.
The program is just getting under way, with eight people signed up so far. Last week, a volunteer made her first visits to the seniors to help them order groceries.
So far, the reaction has been good, he said, adding, “Once we get through the trial-and-error period, I think a lot of people will want to jump on board.”
The program is open to seniors age 55 and older in Vermilion County; they will need a credit or debit card to order the groceries.
Faith in Action will pay the annual access/delivery fee of $100. Seniors will pay for the food they order; all orders of $35 and higher get free delivery.
Here’s how it works: A senior in the program draws up a grocery list early in the week. A volunteer with Faith in Action sets up a time on Thursday to meet with the senior in his home. The volunteer helps him or her choose groceries on the Instacart website.
Instacart offers food and goods from Meijer, CVS and Aldi.
The senior uses a credit or debit card to order products, and chooses a time frame for delivery. An employee with Instacart then delivers the order to the senior’s home.
Faith in Action will help deal with any problems, such as an item not being available.
Flanagan got the idea from his own experiences. He and his wife have a son, 4, and 2-year-old twin boys. Going to the store with three little ones is difficult, he said.
About four months ago, Flanagan decided to try Instacart and loved it. Since then, he’s saved 34 hours of shopping time — not to mention a lot of aggravation.
“The first time they brought groceries to my door, I thought, ‘This is great. This is going to change our lives,’” he said.
The boys were down for a nap and his wife was out of town, so Flanagan was able to prepare a meal for the children with little fuss.
Next, Flanagan thought, “How can I use this to help seniors?”
Food insecurity is a big problem in Vermilion County, he said, and it’s worse among seniors. Even if a senior has the means to buy food, he or she may not be able to get to the store. Or, the senior may not be willing to navigate a crowded or large store.
Having a volunteer visit with the senior also brings in an educational element. The volunteer can direct the senior to healthy choices, for example, such as fresh fruit and vegetables.
“Of course, we won’t stop you if you want Oreos and chips,” Flanagan said with a smile. But if a senior has a serious health issue, the volunteer might ask, “Are you sure you want to order that?”
Down the road, Faith in Action hopes to expand the educational component by offering recipes geared toward certain conditions, such as heart disease.
Another benefit to the program is that the volunteer provides the senior with social interaction. The senior has someone to talk to while ordering the food, and then there’s more interaction when the food is delivered.
Also, a senior could save money by comparing the food prices between Aldi and Meijer on the Instacart website. One drawback is that they won’t be able to use coupons or see sale items.
“This opens the door to seniors to get the cheap prices, but not necessarily the brand names,” he said.
Ashton Greer, community health program manager with OSF, said of the program, “I think it’s neat. They’re using technology to eliminate barriers that seniors face, such as the barrier of getting out of the house.
“This creates a bridge to get over that problem.”
Because this program is less time-intensive than taking a senior to the store, Faith in Action can be more effective with fewer volunteers.
The Instacart website is open to anyone. Seniors who want help from Faith in Action, but who want to pay the annual fee themselves, may apply for financial help through the ministry.
“We want to make it as easy as possible to use the service,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan also said that Faith in Action in Champaign is working to set up an Instacart program.
Faith in Action has been known for its ramp-building volunteers for years.
Now, the ministry has partnered with Habitat for Humanity to continue to make wheelchair ramps available for seniors who meet financial guidelines and have a verifiable need.
The home must be owner-occupied with active insurance and no liens against the property.
Habitat for Humanity will provide the volunteers, and Faith in Action will provide the financial resources.
Two ramps have been built so far this year.
To be considered for assistance with a ramp or for questions on the new Instacart program, call 431-8489 and speak with Johnson Flanagan.
People interested in volunteering with Faith in Action also may call that number.