Help Us Solve Senior Hunger During Older Americans Month

I had the unique and rewarding opportunity to care for my grandparents for a number of years.  They were both in their 80s and in failing health.  I helped them around the house, and I assisted in managing their medications and with personal care.  This experience greatly impacted who I am today and allowed me to see firsthand the struggles that older Americans encounter.

The financial burdens our seniors face are daunting.  With most seniors on a fixed income and the cost of living perpetually rising, even retirees who earned good salaries and budgeted well are seeing their savings dwindle and, in many cases, disappear.  Government assistance programs, such as Social Security, are often not enough, and many seniors lack adequate resources to make ends meet.  From housing and utilities, to gasoline and food, necessary expenses mount up quickly.  The high costs of healthcare, medical devices, and prescription medications hit older Americans particularly hard, cutting deeply into their limited budgets.

My grandparents, or Grandma and Papa as I called them, were frugal and responsible with money.  However, they still had their share of financial challenges: supplemental health insurance premiums, hearing aids, dental work, numerous prescriptions, home repairs, and eventually in-home nursing care for my grandma.  Through it all, my grandparents managed to pay for their medications, keep a roof over their heads, and put food on the table.  Sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, there are many seniors who are not as fortunate and must routinely make the difficult choice between filling their prescriptions and buying groceries.

The prevalence of senior hunger is alarming:

  • 50 percent of households with seniors report they do not have enough food.
  • 42 percent of households with seniors have applied for SNAP (food stamp benefits), but only 20 percent are eligible to receive benefits and still need help with food.
  • 39 percent of seniors utilize senior nutrition sites, Meals On Wheels and senior brown bag programs, but still need help with food.
  • More than 46 percent of seniors report having to choose between paying for food and utilities, and 37 percent report choosing between food and medical care.

According to the United States Administration on Aging and Meals on Wheels Association of America, New Mexico ranks fifth in the nation for senior hunger.  At Roadrunner Food Bank, we serve roughly 30,000 New Mexico seniors annually, and one way we help hungry seniors is through a program called Senior Helpings.  This program provides a 37-pound monthly supplemental food box specially designed for seniors in need.  Each box contains enough food to supply 30 wholesome meals and includes non-perishable items, along with fresh fruits, vegetables, and bread.  Senior Helpings boxes are distributed to more than 13,000 low-income senior citizens across 15 counties at 30 local sites.

The number of seniors needing supplemental food continues to increase as the population ages and outlives their savings, and we at the Food Bank need your help.  Solving the hunger problem plaguing older New Mexicans is of critical importance because lack of access to food among seniors can cause severe health consequences.  A recent study released jointly by Roadrunner Food Bank’s national organization, Feeding America, and the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger revealed that food insecurity in seniors is associated with a number of diseases and other negative health consequences, including depression, heart attacks, asthma, and congestive heart failure.

Senior Hunger Graph

Share the Facts

Though my grandma always had access to food, due to illness, she lost a significant amount of weight in her final years of life.  Once a food lover, my grandma struggled to eat even small amounts.  Despite everyone’s best efforts to feed her, she became frail and malnourished, and it negatively impacted her health and complicated her existing conditions.  I shudder to think how much worse it would have been if she had not had food consistently available to her.

Every year since 1963, May has been designated by the National Council of Senior Citizens as the month to appreciate and celebrate older adults and their contributions to our community.  In conjunction with Feeding America, Roadrunner Food Bank participates in the movement by raising awareness and showing support for seniors facing hunger.

I hope you will join with me this month to spread the word about senior hunger and its negative impacts.  Dubbed our “Greatest Generation,” today’s seniors deserve far better.  I encourage you to volunteer and make a donation.  With a $50 gift to the Senior Helpings program, your generosity will fund a food box.  For as little as $280, you will help feed one senior for an entire year.

Lastly, I would urge you to get to know the seniors in your life.  Volunteer at a nursing home or senior center and play cards or put together a puzzle.  Visit with older neighbors and help them bring in groceries or shovel the driveway.  Their stories, struggles, and life lessons will help you see the world in a new light.  If the seniors in your life are anything like my grandma and papa, their wild tales from a life well lived are likely to surprise you and make you laugh until you cry.

Shannon Kunkel is the Communications Coordinator for Roadrunner Food Bank


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