May is designated as “Older Americans Month”. As I think of my parents, grandparents and mentors throughout the years, a sense of gratitude fills me. They all cared for my livelihood, helped me in tough times and made a profound difference in my life. Celebrating our seniors should happen throughout the year. It is bittersweet to celebrate and at the same time realize so many seniors struggle to meet basic needs. Thousands of people that make up what is referred to as “The Greatest Generation” are struggling in their golden years to put food on the table. In addition, as Baby Boomers age they now represent another large wave of people in need due to the lingering effects of the economic downturn a few years ago. They are making the tough choice of buying food or medicine, or food vs. mortgage. In Central Florida, 17.2% of the seniors are suffering from food insecurity. Many live in a food desert, others are not mobile and/or struggle to prepare meals due to physical and/or mental frailty.
Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida is involved in a collective impact approach to the challenge of addressing senior food security. Along with partners such as AARP, the Winter Park Health Foundation, Seniors First, the University of Central Florida, Heart of Florida United Way, the Senior Resource Alliance and more than a dozen others, we are in the midst of creating a more holistic community approach to helping seniors – the silos are coming down. Learning more about each of the partners, their challenges and opportunities takes time – building trust is essential.
We are now in the process of establishing goals around the topics of access, outreach, education and innovation. Pilots will soon be launched in three high need census tracts. Canvassing residents door-to-door will provide a deep insight into that neighborhood’s specific needs and guide our strategies and resources.
While our goal is to have a long-term sustainable approach to senior food security, we have already witnessed benefits in the short term among partners in this effort. Communication and collaboration among partners is now happening in ways that did not exist before. Additional funding has been gained as a result of our collaborative work. Ultimately, our hope is that food security can be alleviated and more dignity restored for seniors in our community. Let’s restore the “Golden Years”.