This year in Orange County alone, nearly 15,000 seniors face food insecurity. As “baby boomers” move into retirement, these numbers could easily increase. From a population that has helped shape so much advancement and innovation in our day-to-day life, that are grandparents, veterans, teachers, and caregivers, it is heartbreaking to know that there are so many who have to worry about having enough to eat.
An estimated 12% of the senior population in Orange County is thought to struggle with food insecurity, and while it sounds like a low number, it is important to note the effects of hunger on seniors is exponentially more devastating than other age groups.
According to Table 60, an alliance of community organizations, including Second Harvest Food Bank, working together to “alleviate senior hunger through compassionate, collaborative and creative solutions”1, food insecure seniors consume fewer calories and lower quantities of key nutrients, are 50% more likely to be diabetic, are 60% more likely to have a congestive heart failure, and are 3 times more likely to suffer depression. Yet, the cost of providing a senior with enough food to eat for a year costs less than a single day in the hospital.
Thanks to community partnerships, such as Table 60, though, changes are being made to combat that.
Dr. Jim Wright, Provost’s Distinguished Research Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Central Florida and member of the Table 60 alliance, believes one of the most difficult things facing seniors today is the lack of knowledge in the resources available to them to receive assistance and the stigma associated with asking for help.
He emphasizes that one of the best ways to combat this is through outreach. “The biggest challenge is finding them [seniors], assessing and then addressing their food needs in a respectful and empowering manner.” One great organization that does this is Second Harvest’s feeding partner, Seniors First, which operates a Meals on Wheels program that provides both home delivery of prepared meals to seniors and communal feeding programs.
In the long term, seniors also face possible cutbacks in programs that support their fixed incomes, and cuts in feeding programs that cater to the senior population. This makes community partnerships like Table 60 even more important for seniors, but Dr. Jim Wright believes even the actions of one person can make a difference.
Senior food insecurity is a solvable problem, but it will take resources, donations, and volunteers to get there. “At a larger level, federal and state budget constraints threaten funding for senior seniors across the board. Everyone can write letters to their state and federal representatives, their Senators, their Governor, and even the President urging that funding levels be maintained or increased,” Dr. Jim Wright adds, “Agencies and programs that provide services to seniors need more funding to keep up with the demand.”
So whether you help by volunteering to deliver meals to seniors or package easy to heat meals, donate to support senior feeding efforts, or advocate and educate about senior hunger and the resources out there, you are making a difference. With your help, we’ll get senior hunger to zero.
Online Marketing Coordinator
1 Table 60 website. http://www.table60.org/