Spotlight on Innovations and Achievements: Central Plains Area Agency on Aging Improves Congregate Meal Programs for Older Adults

Learn how this AAA transformed its congregate meal service by offering healthy meals, social engagement and access to community resources.

We're proud to highlight the award-winning work of the 2019 winners of n4a's Aging Innovations and Achievement Awards in this weekly spotlight feature. This week, we are focusing on Central Plains Area Agency on Aging's Innovative Partnerships to Develop New Approaches to Congregate Meals program. The agency was a 2019 Aging Achievement Award winner in the Nutrition category.
Central Plains Area Agency on Aging identified several opportunities to expand and enhance its congregate meal service through innovative partnerships with housing properties and rural towns. An outside-the-box approach led to three unique congregate sites, a centralized kitchen serving two new congregate meal sites, increased usage in one county and a pilot project to expand nutrition choices at a rural hospital.
The AAA has experienced multiple benefits from creating Older Americans Act (OAA) congregate meal settings inside of senior HUD housing. Many of the housing residents were already receiving home-delivered meals, so once the meal site opened inside their residence, the program enabled participants to attend group meals with others living in their housing complexes. The innovative partnerships developed as a result of this program increased participation in the agency's congregate meal program. In fact, since the inception of the hospital congregate meal program, the agency's OAA Title III C1 program income has increased by 45 percent.
Both communities where OAA congregate sites were established saw the number of congregate meals served increase by an average of 38 percent from 2018 to 2019. The program also allowed the agency to begin serving home-delivered meal participants who live in rural areas. The program also reduced issues the agency was having due to a shortage of volunteers. 
The addition of onsite congregate meals has allowed older adults to meet new or old friends, broaden their sense of self and community, and engage in social activities while having a nutritious meal. “The OAA meal service has provided a sense of community within the housing complex. The residents meet in the dining area an hour before meal service to check in with each other and find out what is going on. This is the reason they get out of their apartment,” said Tina, a HUD senior housing manager.
To replicate, any AAA could identify areas with high densities of home-delivered meals users and investigate opportunities for new congregate meal program partnerships or centralized kitchens. Community sites or restaurants with meal service, such as hospitals, could be potential partners. With dedicated staff, the review, coordination and development process takes about one year.
To learn more about the Central Plains Area Agency on Aging's Innovative Partnerships to Develop New Approaches to Congregate Meals program, contact Annette Graham, Executive Director, Central Plains Area Agency on Aging,
For more information about the 2019 winners, read our press release and check out our book of winners to learn how your agency can implement this or similar programs in your community! You can also listen to our four-part webinar series, n4a Lunchtime Innovations, to hear your peers' secrets to success for these award-winning programs.



USAging Fact: Learn about your peers’ work—and how it can fit into your agency’s goals! The AIA Awards recognizes successful and innovative programs that USAging members have developed to serve older adults. Get inspiration from our 2023 winners!