May Is Older Americans Month
Right here in a community not far from Fredericksburg, lives one of our clients whose name is Willie. He is 91 years old, worked the better part of his adult life, and now has to rely on a small social security check to make ends meet each month. Willie can still drive, and each month comes to one of the Mobile Pantry sites operated by the Fredericksburg Area Food Bank. Each time he comes, Willie is grateful to the volunteers who help him take the food to his car. Without this monthly food assistance, Willie does not know how he would have enough food to eat. With little income and no savings, thousands of older Americans in the Fredericksburg region face impossible decisions, such as choosing between paying for healthcare or prescriptions and buying groceries.
Although food insecurity—not having access to enough food for an active or healthy life—affects people of all ages, seniors are particularly vulnerable because they have unique nutritional needs related to aging and/or medical conditions and often have limited income and out-of-pocket medical expenses. Because seniors often need the medication to maintain their health, many elderly Americans must forgo the foods they need to stay healthy.
A recent research report, entitled Spotlight on Senior Health: Adverse Health Outcomes of Food Insecure Older Americans, finds that food insecure seniors are more likely than those who are food secure to have a lower nutrient intake and to be at a higher risk for chronic health conditions and depression.
The study reveals that when compared to food-secure seniors, food-insecure seniors are 60 percent more likely to experience depression, 53 percent more likely to report a heart attack, 52 percent more likely to develop asthma, and 40 percent more likely to report an experience of congestive heart failure. These findings are especially troublesome when paired with the reality that 30 percent of seniors who rely on our local food pantries for help report that they have had to choose between paying for food and paying for medical care. According to the study Hunger in America 2010, among food pantry clients 65 and older, more than half reported visiting a pantry on a monthly basis, the highest of any age group.
To combat these issues, many food banks, like Fredericksburg Area Food Bank, operate senior grocery programs and mobile pantries to get food to those seniors that need it most. Fredericksburg Area Food Bank, a member of Feeding America, has served the Fredericksburg area for 32 years, feeding 3,400 seniors last year, utilizing Mobile Pantry programs, a Senior Food for Life program, and distribution through a network of over 70 partner agencies operating food pantries. Food insecurity in Virginia is at 12.1%, including those seniors struggling to stay nourished.
Feeding America is the largest charitable domestic hunger-relief organization in the country. Through its network of more than 200 member food banks, Feeding America serves 37 million people in need annually, including 3 million seniors. With widespread community support, Fredericksburg Area Food Bank is working with Feeding America to ensure vulnerable seniors are provided with much-needed nutritious food. However, charity alone cannot solve senior hunger in our community.
In addition to generous private donations, we rely on commodities through the USDA TEFAP program to supplement 1,800 nutritious monthly food packages to low-income seniors, and help connect seniors to other programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), to ensure they have groceries to last them through the month, so seniors do not have to choose between filling prescriptions or filling their pantries.
As our elected officials make decisions about state and federal budgets, it’s important that our community knows that many of our seniors right here in the Fredericksburg region that includes Stafford, Spotsylvania, Caroline, King George, and the city of Fredericksburg rely on both federal nutrition programs and food banks to get by each month. Without funding for USDA Commodities it would make it much harder for Fredericksburg Area Food Bank to safeguard local seniors from hunger, and we urge Congress to protect nutrition programs and allocate the funding to serve all eligible seniors.
Together, we can provide hope to seniors and families in need.
Oya N. Oliver
President and CEO
Fredericksburg Area Food Bank