Several area seniors were lined up early June 5 outside Messiah Lutheran Church Senior Center, South Williamsport, in the hopes of receiving their share of free farmers market vouchers from the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program.
Every year, for the past 10 years, the Department of Agriculture, along with the Office of Aging and senior centers of Pennsylvania, provide four $5 vouchers to local participating farmers markets to seniors who qualify.
To qualify, seniors must be older than 60, have a single monthly income of $1,670 or less and be a resident of Lycoming County. Those seniors unable to attend may sign a proxy form to have others get the vouchers for them.
DENISE N. CRAWFORD/Sun-Gazette
Lois Stryker comes to a senior center and volunteers as an exercise instructor, and
Deryl Maruschak serves as the senior center services director.
Any fruits and vegetables that are grown may be bought with the vouchers. If the $5 is not spent, change will not be available for seniors. In Lycoming County, 1,000 vouchers are provided, and in Clinton County, 500 vouchers are provided.
"Each year, we end up giving them all out sooner in less time," said Deryl Maruschak, senior center services director. "I end up having to turn people away."
Maruschak keeps a list of those who have been turned away to show the state just how many people are hoping to get vouchers and are unsuccessful.
"I've been begging the state to give more to hand out," Maruschak said. "But it's just not in their budget."
Several seniors at the event have taken advantage of the opportunity in the past.
"It's just marvelous and very helpful," said Loretta Franzi, who has come to the event before.
Many seniors thought the process would be more helpful if there were more vouchers available at more than one location.
"Everyone who qualifies should get one," said Pat Leidhecker. "There were about 100 people lined up early this morning."
Joanna Mazzante, another senior waiting in line, thought an easier process would make it better for seniors.
"Maybe they should think about mailing out the vouchers," Mazzante said. "It'd be easier for those in wheelchairs and such to get them."
For more information on the Senior Farmers Market Nutriton Program, contact Sandy Hopple of the Bureau at 800-468-2433.
"The goal is to get seniors to eat more fruits and vegetables," Maruschak said. "And to get farmers to sell more fruits and vegetables."