Thursday, August 8, 2013

Senior Hunger is a Growing Problem

Recently, the newspaper in our California retirement community contained two letters to the editor that distressed me.  The letters exposed a serious problem that has been going on right under my nose, not only in my own area, but in communities across America.

In the first letter to the editor, a woman wrote in to say she had discovered that one of her neighbors was eating pet food in order to survive.   The woman who wrote the letter expressed her shock that such a thing could be happening in affluent Orange County, California and she was distraught that she had neighbors who could not afford to buy fresh, healthy food.

A week later, a local church wrote their own letter to the editor.  They were reaching out to our community with the news that they operate a well-stocked food bank in the neighborhood and that they would happily provide food to anyone who was having difficulty obtaining food.  They mentioned that they could provide both basic staples as well as fresh fruit and vegetables.

These letters were particularly interesting to me since our community requires that residents prove they have a household retirement income of at least $42,000 (in 2013), as well as substantial assets in addition those required to make their home purchase.  New residents must provide this financial information before they can purchase a home in our age restricted community.  Of course, the income and asset levels are adjusted every few years and they were much lower a decade or two ago.  Sadly, even people who had adequate financial resources when they originally moved into the community may have eventually found themselves under financial stress after 30 or 40 years.  Over the decades, assets can easily be used up and cost of living increases do not keep up with inflation.

After reading about hunger in my own neighborhood, I began to wonder how common it is for senior citizens to be experiencing food shortages across the United States.  I thought my readers who are newly retired or who plan to retire soon would also be interested in this information.

Senior Hunger Facts from Meals on Wheels

According to Meals on Wheels, in a report released in May of 2012, hunger is a serious problem among the elderly:

One out of seven seniors is threatened by hunger.
8.3 million seniors were threatened by hunger when surveyed in 2010.
Hunger among the elderly has increased 78% since 200l, and 34% since 2007.

Meals on Wheels is one of several programs that has been organized to help millions of people eat a more healthy diet while continuing to live in their own homes.  This worthwhile organization welcomes volunteers and may be able to assist you if you need food.

If you want to find a local chapter, you can go to the Meals on Wheels website at:  http://www.mowaa.org

For those who are able to help, you may want to make a donation to this worthwhile organization or volunteer to deliver food to senior citizens in your community.  My own grandmother delivered Meals on Wheels when she was in her 80's!  I have several neighbors who also deliver meals throughout our neighborhood ... which makes it all the sadder when I realize that there are still people living here who slip through the cracks.

Feeding America Also Helps Senior Citizens

Another organization that is attempting to provide food assistance to the elderly is Feeding America.  They serve about three million elderly people every year.   They have several different programs designed specifically to help feed senior citizens:  brown bag lunches, senior nutrition sites (such as local senior centers where lunch is served) and home delivered meals that are coordinated through organizations such as Meals on Wheels.

The seniors who use these programs often have reported that, without the help, they would have to choose between either buying food or medicine or paying their utility bills.

This one fact from the Feeding America website was of particular interest to me:  They expect the number of food insecure seniors to increase by 50% by the time the youngest Baby Boomers reach age 60 in 2025.   In other words, millions of my fellow Baby Boomers are expected to be living with "food insecurity" during their retirement years.  That is the primary reason I posted this article.  Should you find yourself in this situation, I hope you will have this information at your fingertips so you know who to contact for help.

How To Make Sure There is Enough Food for the Seniors You Know

For senior citizens, the hunger problem is particularly complex.   That is because their problem may not be a lack of money for food, but an inability to drive to the store or prepare the food. Some elderly individuals with arthritis in their hands find it too daunting to use a can opener or use other items in their kitchen.  Therefore, we cannot assume that our neighbors are eating well simply because we believe they have an adequate income.

First, if you or someone you know is not eating properly, assess the cause and see if you can address the specific problem.  Is it a lack of money, lack of transportation, or an inability to safely prepare the food?

Once you have determined the problem, see what can be done to address it.  For example, if money is an issue, contact your local Social Services department to find out about food stamps.  In addition, locate the nearest food bank and see what supplies are available there. If the problem is transportation, many communities (like my own) have organized programs that match up people who can no longer drive with people who are willing to provide free rides to the store or doctors' appointments.  If it has become difficult to prepare food, contact Meals on Wheels or Feeding America to see if prepared meals can be delivered to your home.  If you do not know how to access these programs, contact your local senior center.  Many of them provide low cost lunches to senior citizens.  In addition, the senior center will be able to put you in touch with local charities and organizations that are available to help.

Senior hunger in America is a problem that we can address.  Let's reach out to our neighbors to make sure they are not suffering needlessly.

If you are interested in learning how to do a better job of preparing for your own retirement, you may want to check out the index articles below.  They each contain links to a number of other articles on that topic.  It is my sincere hope that better long-term planning may help my readers avoid some of the problems mentioned in this article:

Gifts, Travel and Family Relationships

Great Places for Boomers to Retire Overseas

Great Places to Retire in the United States

Health and Medical Topics for Baby Boomers

Money and Financial Planning for Retirement

Resources:

http://www.mowaa.org/about-senior-hunger

http://feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/hunger-facts/senior-hunger.aspx

You are reading from the blog:  http://baby-boomer-retirement.blogspot.com

Photo of empty plate courtesy of www.morguefile.com

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your information with us and for the list of organizations addressing this issue. I think you hit the nail on the head when you talk about lack of transportation being a problem for many seniors who aren't getting adequate food.

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  2. Thank you for sharing your comments. I was shocked to discover that hunger was a problem in my community, and was absolutely stunned to realize what a serious problem it is across the United States ... despite organizations like Meals on Wheels that try to address the problem.

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