Senior Hunger in the Land of Plenty
That seniors aged 60 and older in the wealthiest nation on Earth could be going hungry is shocking. Yet, all across the country, seniors are struggling with food insecurity. They are faced with choosing between food and medicine, food and housing, food and utility bills, and it’s taking a toll.
Feeding America, the nation’s largest charitable food organization, reported that in 2015, 4.2 million (8.8 percent) seniors 65 and older were in poverty. In 2014, 2.9 million households with seniors experienced food insecurity, and 1.1 million households composed of seniors living alone experienced food insecurity.
This puts seniors at risk for myriad health problems such as depression, heart disease, asthma and diabetes, and it robs them of their dignity. As we experience the continued graying of America, the problem is expected to worsen. By 2025, when the youngest of the Baby Boomers reaches retirement age, the number of food insecure seniors is projected to have increased by 50%. The time to strengthen the social safety net for seniors is now. We must urge Congress to increase SNAP benefits to seniors in need and ease restrictions on the USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program that funds many senior center and other senior congregate eating sites.
Arkansas Has A Problem
Arkansas seniors fare far worse than their contemporaries in other states.
According to a recent report by the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger, Arkansas is ranked #1 in senior hunger nationally. An estimated 24.8 percent of Arkansans over the age of 60 are food insecure. As with people in other sectors, financial hardship makes seniors especially vulnerable. They are often unable to weather added stresses to their household budgets and so are forced to make difficult decisions about how to allocate their resources. For many seniors, transportation or physical mobility limits are barriers to getting the groceries they need every week; for others, the absence of supermarkets or grocery stores further limit their access to healthy food.
For an understanding of the plight of food insecure seniors in Arkansas, the Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Aging and Adult Services has published a comprehensive look at senior hunger in Arkansas in their report Senior Hunger in Arkansas 2014 . This report assessed the impact and extent of senior hunger as well as trends. It serves as the most definitive snapshot of the state of senior hunger in Arkansas.
We’re Working On Solutions
The Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, whose mission it is to reduce hunger through a unified effort to provide hunger relief, education and advocacy, is taking steps to begin addressing senior hunger in a comprehensive way in Arkansas. The first step, taken in October of 2014, was to convene a Senior Hunger Summit in Little Rock that brought together advocates, organizations and agencies in the state that deal with hunger and the effects of hunger in the elderly population. The Summit Report 2014 is included here.
As a result of the Hunger Summit, we have formed a working group charged with developing a coordinated strategy that will make it easier for agencies to identify the resources available at the state and local level, and to communicate effectively to seniors about the resources available to them in getting the nutritious food they need. The group will also be looking at ways to make more seasonal produce available as well as how to make elderly feeding programs more sustainable in the face of decreasing funding.
We’re Going Forward
The Alliance SNAP Outreach team works with senior centers and others to help elderly Arkansans in need apply for food assistance benefits. These benefits—meager though they often are—provide a much needed resource that helps seniors avoid having to choose between medicine and food or utilities and food. In 2016, the team helped 596 eligible seniors complete their food assistance applications. This is an on-going effort that is gaining momentum and support.
As a means of increasing access to fresh produce for seniors and others in food deserts or who are disabled, the Fresh2You mobile farmers market, makes weekly stops at high rise apartment building in Pulaski County where there are high percentages of elderly or disabled Arkansans. While Fresh2You is still only a pilot program, we hope that other cities around the state will adopt this innovative strategy for getting fresh produce to areas in need. The Alliance stands ready to assist cities or other organizations that might want to institute a mobile market.
The mobile market works in conjunction with our Cooking Matters team that conducts cooking demonstrations at each stop so residents feel confident about how to prepare the fresh produce they have just purchased. The Cooking Matters team also conducts 6-week courses for seniors in which they learn how to make nutritious meals on a budget without sacrificing flavor and how to substitute ingredients in recipes to make them more heart healthy and appropriate for people with diabetes.
If you or your organization would like to join us in this effort, please contact Tomiko Townley, older adult and SNAP outreach manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are many local, state and national organizations dedicated to the wellbeing of seniors. Many help provide direct services such as emergency food supplies, daily meals, home care options, transportation, SNAP application assistance, etc., while others act as policy advocates. We hope you will find these resources valuable.
Area Agencies on Aging (AAA)
Established under the Older Americans Act (OAA) in 1973 to respond to the needs of Americans 60 and over in every local community. By providing options that allow older adults to choose the services and living arrangements that suit them best, AAAs make it possible for older adults to “age in place” in their homes and communities.
Aging services and programs for elderly Arkansans are provided by the eight Arkansas Area Agencies on Aging. They are independent non-profit organizations receiving federal, state and private funding. The AAAs provide congregate feeding programs as well as other senior food services options.
The Area Agency on Aging of Northwest Arkansas
Jerry Mitchell, Director
1510 Rock Springs Rd, PO Box 1795 | Harrison AR | 72602-1795
Phone: 870-741-1144 | Toll-free: 1-800-432-9721 | TDD: 870-741-1346
Serving Baxter, Benton, Boone, Carroll, Madison, Marion, Newton, Searcy and Washington counties.
White River AAA
Ted Hall, Director
3998 Harrison Street, PO Box 2637 | Batesville, AR | 72503
Phone: 870-612-3000 | Toll-free & TDD: 1-800-382-3205
Serving Cleburne, Fulton, Independence, Izard, Jackson, Sharp, Stone, Van Buren, White and Woodruff counties.
East Arkansas AAA
Monte Callicott, Executive Director
2005 E. Highland/Fountain Sq., PO Box 5035 | Jonesboro, AR | 72403
Phone: 870-972-5980 | Toll-free: 1-800-467-3278
Serving Clay, Craighead, Crittenden, Cross, Greene, Lawrence, Lee, Mississippi, Phillips, Poinsett, Randolph and St. Francis counties.
Area Agency on Aging of Southeast Arkansas
Betty M. Bradshaw, President & CEO
709 East 8th, PO Box 8569 | Pine Bluff, AR | 71611
Phone: 870- 543- 6300
TDD & Toll-free: 1- 800- 264- 3260
Serving Arkansas, Ashley, Bradley, Chicot, Cleveland, Desha, Drew, Grant, Jefferson and Lincoln counties.
CareLink, the Central Arkansas Area Agency on Aging
Luke Mattingly, Ceo/ President
706 West 4th Street, PO Box 5988 | North Little Rock, AR | 72119
Phone: 501-372-5300 | Fax 501-688-7437 | Toll-free & TDD: 1-800-482-6359
Serving Faulkner, Lonoke, Monroe, Prairie, Pulaski and Saline counties.
Area Agency on Aging West Central Arkansas
Timothy Herr, Executive Director
905 W. Grand Avenue | Hot Springs, AR | 71913
Phone: 501-321-2811 | Toll-free: 1-800-467-2170 | TDD: 501-321-2811
Fax: 501-321-2650 (Hot Springs) | Fax: 501-967-2401 (Russellville)
Serving Clark, Conway, Garland, Hot Spring, Johnson, Montgomery, Perry, Pike, Pope and Yell counties.
Area Agency on Aging of Southwest Arkansas
Ruth Langston, Executive Director
600 Columbia, 11E, PO Box 1863 | Magnolia, AR | 71754-1863
Phone: 870-234-7410 | Toll-free & TDD: 1-800-272-2127
Website: Age With Dignity
Email (Information and Assistance Division): email@example.com
Serving Calhoun, Columbia, Dallas, Hempstead, Howard, LaFayette, Little River, Miller, Nevada, Ouachita, Sevier and Union counties.
AAA of Western Arkansas
Jim Medley, President & CEO
524 Garrison, PO Box 1724 | Fort Smith, AR | 72902
Phone: 479-783-4500 | Toll-free: 1-800-320-6667
Serving Crawford, Franklin, Logan, Polk, Scott and Sebastian counties.
Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance
Through its SNAP Outreach program, the Alliance assists seniors and others who qualify for benefits to determine their qualification status and apply for benefits. The Alliance also trains non-profit organizations in how to offer SNAP outreach services to the people they serve.
Food Banks and Pantries in Arkansas
Arkansas’s food banks and pantries represent an important first line of defense against senior hunger. Many provide regular distribution of food items to seniors and information about other food programs.
AARP in Arkansas
AARP in Arkansas was a sponsor of the 2014 Arkansas Senior Hunger Summit. AARP and other organizations are joining forces to develop a strategic plan for reducing senior hunger in the state.
National Foundation to End Senior Hunger [NFESH] The non-profit National Foundation to End Senior Hunger was formerly known as the Meals On Wheels Research Foundation. NFESH iscommitted to bringing together the best minds in all sectors, commissioning research and exploring social entrepreneurial innovations to seek long-term, sustainable solutions to end senior hunger.
Their What a Waste program is an innovative, anti-hunger initiative for community-based nutrition programs. What a Waste works to reduce food waste, increase program efficiency and help the environment while providing new sources of healthful foods to those in need.