Hunger’s Devastating Effect on Our Seniors

By Jean Blish Siers *

From Feeding America: Spotlight on Senior Health

A couple years ago, I visited a soup kitchen where one of my drivers delivers a lot of produce. Sandy, the kitchen manager, told me how much the fresh produce meant to them and to the neighbors they serve. It’s within walking distance of low-income senior housing and a lot of older folks stop in each day. Sandy said Fridays are particularly heartbreaking, when she’ll see elderly ladies wrapping up parts of a sandwich or a biscuit into a napkin to take home for the weekend. She’ll try to slip them a little something extra, because she knows they’ll be very hungry by Monday’s lunch.

Those who deliver for Society of St. Andrew have lots of stories like this. I’ve heard stories of people crying when they were given a bag of sweet potatoes. A driver with some very over-ripe strawberries apologized for delivering berries so close to going bad. The woman called her the next day and said she just used them as syrup on her pancakes and they were still delicious! One driver with some extra corn stopped to check on an older couple from the church and found that the husband, who did all of the driving for the household, had cancer and couldn’t drive, leaving the two of them unable to get into town for food.

Today, I talked with a social worker who works with three low-income senior housing complexes. I had connected her with a small farmers market and she let me know that last week, even after days of rainy, cold weather, she filled her car with lettuce and cabbage and other fresh vegetables. The bags of Swiss chard that were a mystery to her, thrilled two of the women beyond belief – said they hadn’t had chard in years and loved it. Another lady held a head of Bibb lettuce to her nose like a bouquet and said it was her late husband’s favorite green.

In the Charlotte, North Carolina area, an estimated 25% of seniors are food insecure. According to a 2014 Feeding America report, food “insecure seniors are 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. In addition, food insecure seniors are 22 percent more likely to experience limitations in their Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), which are those fundamental activities, such as eating, dressing, and bathing, that individuals typically can perform independently. These high rates probably reflect, in part, the challenges these seniors face in accessing enough food.” It’s no wonder then that the same report states hungry seniors are 60% more likely to suffer from depression.

The report goes on to say, “The distribution of food by the charitable food assistance network offers critical nutritional support to individuals in need. Increased distribution of nutrient- rich foods would ensure that food insecure seniors receive more access to nutrients vital to their health.” That’s Society of St. Andrew! We work hard to get food deep into our communities. It’s heartbreaking to think that our parents and grandparents might not have enough to eat, or enough food of decent quality for them to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

This summer, as the crops start rolling in, please join us in the fields! Every pair of hands can help save and distribute much-needed food to those in our community who need and deserve it!

* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s Charlotte Area Gleaning Coordinator.