Senior centers to distribute farmers market vouchers

Baltimore County residents over age 60 will again receive assistance in adding fresh fruits and vegetables to their diets this summer.

Beginning July 18, each of the county's 20 senior centers will distribute vouchers from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. to be used at county farmers markets, according to a release from the Baltimore County Department of Aging.

A booklet of six $5 checks is available to any county resident more than 60 years old whose income meets standards based on the federal poverty guidelines, the release stated.

The income level is 85 percent higher than the poverty level determined by the 2011 Federal Poverty Guidelines, said Jeanne Gourley, the nutrition program manager for the Baltimore County Department of Aging.

Customers do not need to use the checks all at once, Gourley said.

Last year, the county gave out 980 vouchers, she said.

Unlike last year, residents will not need to prove their income levels.

"When they sign the line (of the application), they're certifying that they do meet the income guideline," Gourley said.

In a one-person household, a person's income must be less than $20,147 to qualify for the voucher.

A two-person household qualifies for the voucher with an income less than $27,214.

"It's a great opportunity for them to get nutritious food and maybe try something that they've never tried before," said Susan Patry, director of the Arbutus Senior Center on 855 Sulphur Spring Road.

"It gives seniors the opportunity and affordability to purchase fruits and vegetables locally," said Joyce Rosewag, director of the Lansdowne-Baltimore Highlands Senior Center on 424 Third Ave.

This year, 908 vouchers will be divided among the senior centers. The number each center receives was determined by the popularity of the program at each location.

"It's based on distribution in the past. Some of them are much busier than others," Gourley said. "Because this is the (Arbutus center's) first time around, we went with a similar-sized senior center for their number."

Patry could not provide an estimate of how many vouchers the Arbutus Senior Center, which opened last August, would receive.

Rosewag said on July 6 that the vouchers had not arrived at the center and she didn't know how many the senior center would receive.

Rosewag expressed confidence that there will be demand for however many are delivered.

"I've been getting calls and questions (about the vouchers)," Rosewag said. "I think it will be successful."

As for a number she expects to seek out the vouchers, Patry said she couldn't be sure.

"It's hard to tell because sometimes people come here and they don't tell us that they have problems," Patry said. "Hopefully, those who need it won't be bashful and will come in."

Getting people to the farmers markets will fulfill the county's mission of encouraging healthy eating and supporting local food producers.

"Those individuals who might not allow themselves to eat fresh fruits and vegetables because they're watching their food budget (get) the opportunity to have those fresh fruits and vegetables," Gourley said.

The closest farmers market to the Lansdowne-Baltimore Highlands and Arbutus senior centers is the Arbutus Farmers Market sponsored by the Arbutus Business and Professional Association.

The Thursday market on 5200 Southwestern Boulevard, which debuted in June, is open weekly 2-6 p.m. through October 27.

Catonsville is home to two farmers markets, both of which run into November.

The Sunday Farmers Market on the parking lot at 730 Frederick Road is open 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

The Bloomsbury Community Center hosts the Wednesday Farmers Market at 106 Bloomsbury Ave. from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Patry and Rosewag said those needing assistance getting to the market should contact CountyRide, which provides transportation for Baltimore County residents over age 60, with disabilities and rural residents.

Both directors also said they may organize a field trip to a market.

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