There IS Such Thing As A Free Lunch

Sometimes, it really is possible to get something for nothing. In this case, if you’re 60 or older and live in Albany County, that comes in the form of a free meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner), compliments of the “Go & Dine” program.

The good news is that idea of eating on the county’s dime turns out to be very popular among local seniors. The bad news is, there’s already a waiting list to do so.

The popularity of “Go & Dine” is not surprising. This effort is not just about the food, although maintaining good nutrition is something that’s important no matter how old – or young – you are.

According to AARP, programs like “Go & Dine” can help fight social isolation, which is a big problem among seniors. In 2017, nearly half of congregate meal recipients lived alone. Congregate meals give older adults the chance to socialize over food in group settings, with many participants reporting seeing friends more often as a result.

In turn, reduced isolation can actually improve health and reduce health care costs. In fact, AARP Public Policy Institute research has found that social isolation costs Medicare, which provides coverage for the bulk of elderly Americans, an additional $6.7 billion a year.

With grant funding from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Community Living, Albany County and Erie County launched “a technology-driven congregate dining program including a restaurant dining program” in July.

Blurbage from the Albany County website:

“Each participant is assigned a keytag and voucher that will be used at the participating restaurants. Once the individual has signed up, vouchers will be distributed each month to be used in conjunction with the keytag.”

In the interest of transparency, I heard about this program from my mother, who is a happy participant. She lives in an active senior community in Latham, and has carpooled with her neighbors to several participating restaurants so far, including The Restaurant at the Pointe, Bob’s Diner, and Elevation Burger.

According to Ger-Mom: “We ordered from a limited menu, but there were plenty of choices. We’ve had burgers, Reubens, pancakes and sausages, chicken sandwiches, plus sides and drinks. Everything was very tasty.”

While the meal is free, participants are encouraged to leave a $3 tip based on the value of the voucher.

“Go & Dine” is a component of Albany County’s “Age Friendly Community Initiative,” marked by a shift to a more self-directed service model. Restaurant menu options follow the US Department of Agriculture’s nutritional guidelines, but the choices of where to go, and when, and with whom – as well as what to order – are up to the participants.

The pilot has proven very popular with older adults and businesses. According to the Albany County website: “For older adults, it provides a casual and self-driven experience while local restaurants will benefit from an increased customer base and the opportunity to play a vital role in supporting an age-friendly community.”

More information about the program can be found here, along with a list of participating restaurants.

As mom said when she and her group were on their way to Martel’s on a recent evening: “Sometimes being old is worth it!”

NOTE: The Ruben sandwich pictured is offered at Martel’s. It is included in the “Go & Dine” program, the beer in the background is not.



1 Comment

  1. Gerrie Ryan

    Excellent write up Colleen. While the restaurants may tire of seeing me, I’m usually bringing
    folks that don’t drive.


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