By Jean Blish Siers *
In the Charlotte, North Carolina area where I work, approximately 25% of seniors are food insecure. That’s a pretty stunning statistic in our shiny New South city, where average rents have inched up to more than $1,000 a month and luxury car dealers abound. And yet we see it every day, in the people who come to the churches where we deliver, or stop by the soup kitchens we serve. Retirement income often doesn’t keep pace with inflation, and too often nutritious food is one of the first things to go.
This has serious repercussions. According to a study by Feeding America, food-insecure seniors are at increased risk for several chronic health conditions. These seniors are, among other things:
- 60% more likely to experience depression,
53% more likely to report a heart attack, and
- 40% more like to report congestive heart failure.
A lot of my volunteers deliver to soup kitchens and churches that serve older populations. Others go door-to-door with bags of corn or tomatoes or sweet potatoes. When an older, home-bound adult receives a basket of muscadine grapes in the fall, the look on their face will tell you they are remembering a time fifty or sixty or seventy years earlier, when they would pick those grapes on their farms or at their grandparents’ house. Not only is the food good for them; it does them good.
There is an interesting pair of graphs from a report compiled by AARP. (Download the PDF) While nearly three-quarters of seniors report wanting to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, 47% say they don’t – they are simply too expensive. Which is why people will actually cry when our volunteers appear at their doorsteps with a bag of fresh corn on a hot August day.
We live in a time when people seem more polarized than ever before. But I think and hope we could all agree on one thing: our seniors, some of our most vulnerable citizens, those who fought wars to protect us, who raised us and taught us, deserve better than to go hungry. They deserve better than to become ill because they can’t afford decent food. They deserve the respect and dignity and health that good food provides.
* Jean Blish Siers is SoSA’s Charlotte Area Gleaning Coordinator.