May is Older Americans Month and an important time to recognize that after a lifetime of hard work, 63% of the households with older adults (50+) that Feeding America serves find themselves facing an impossible choice — to buy groceries or medical care. As the baby-boom generation ages, the number of seniors facing hunger is only expected to increase. The rate of hunger among seniors aged 60 and older has increased by 53% since 2001. In fact, the number of seniors struggling with hunger is projected to increase by another 50% when the youngest of the baby-boom generation reaches 60 in 2025.
With 1 in 5 seniors in Virginia facing food insecurity, the FRFB is tackling senior hunger through our Food for Life (FFL) program. FFL provides boxes of supplemental food to seniors living in low-income households. Thanks to the support of our community and program partners, we were able to provide 2,000 struggling seniors with monthly boxes last year.
Marva, who is the FFL Coordinator for one of our faith-based partners, is retired after 42 years working in the public school system. Marva shares that many of the seniors she works with live alone and are unable to cook. Because Marva knows the needs of each of her clients, she is able to tailor the boxes based on dietary needs, likes and dislikes, and challenges that make nutrition difficult. For example, she visits a 97-year-old, wheelchair-bound woman who is not able to use her stove. Marva always makes sure to grab food items such as rotisserie chickens, canned tuna, and fresh produce that are healthy and easy to prepare.
It is not enough just to “feed” our seniors. The FRFB is committed to providing nutritious options because food-insecure seniors are at increased risk for chronic health conditions. Consider these statistics provided by Feeding America. Food insecure seniors are:
60% are more likely to experience depression
53% are more likely to report a heart attack
52% are more likely to develop asthma
40% are more likely to report an experience of congestive heart failure
The loneliness and depression that come with aging and poor health are very serious. Pete, from the Rappahannock Area Agency on Aging, says that in many cases the only human contact these seniors have is with the volunteers who bring the FFL boxes. Of the approximately 30 clients RAAA serves, the majority are confined to their homes because they are no longer allowed to drive. He shared a story about filling in for a volunteer, who visits an elderly man through the program. Pete brought in the box and then the gentleman said, “Can you sit down and talk for awhile?” Pete was happy to oblige and recognizes the important element of compassionate contact in the program.
Our commitment to helping our FFL clients, not just with food assistance, but with dignity is very important in humanizing the food-insecure. These people are not just statistics. Marva agrees noting, “Jesus's disciples once asked him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry, sick, or in prison?" Today they might also have asked, "When did we see you longing for human dignity and respect? When did we see you struggling against poverty and economic injustice?" Marva says that working with FFL is a blessing for her, as well. “I feel so good when I make someone happy.”
As a community, we have several choices about how to express our commitment to the welfare of older adults. However, the only ethical choice is one that treats them as citizens of equal value. If you would like to learn how you can be a part of our FFL program, please go to the FRFB’s home page and scroll down to the box that says, “Volunteer.”