Starving Seniors? Food insecure seniors? Are those terms too harsh?
Let’s ratchet them down: hungry.
Or maybe: food insecure. Yeah, that’s better. It sounds better anyway.
Call it what you want, the event is the same. It’s your grandmother or grandfather (or me…I’m certainly a grandmother) caught in a situation where there’s simply not enough food in the house. They are food insecure.
In these times, we seniors living on Social Security are finding ourselves routinely choosing between food and medicine, food and transportation.
I have two friends who daily hitch rides to the grocery store because their cars don’t work any more. Here, in the middle of this health crisis, they are in a desperate situation not of their making. Everyone is trying to shelter in place, wear face masks and gloves, practice social distancing, and find a friend to help get food.
Walking to a store is totally out for one: her hip and knee replacements won’t allow it. And, we’re not supposed to be out in public anyway.
And, how can a person buy a used car these days anyway? And, when the car gives up the ghost, how will we get to work? Yes, I know lots of seniors who are figuring out ways to bring in $$$.
The issues with seniors and food insecurity are serious because when seniors no longer have $$$ to buy the food they need for nutrition or when they can no longer buy the medicines they need, they become ill and finally end up being cared for by their children or they end up in a nursing home.
I know many stories about:
The senior in Woodstock living on mashed potatoes.
The older woman in Bearsville who ended up in a nursing home when her take-out food pantry cut her off and she couldn’t get to a grocery store.
The older man who lacks $$$ for enough food and is slowly starving.
There is food available:
If they can get to a food pantry or If they can find a pantry offering takeout
If they can sign up for SNAP (food stamps).
If they have the strength to deal with long lines and frazzled volunteers.
I spoke recently with a retired man I know:
“Richard, do you get SNAP?”
“Why, Richard? SNAP is usually easy to get. All you have to do is apply.”
“Well, I’m getting by without it. Let someone else, needier than me, get the $$$ Besides, I hear the lines are outrageous.”
“Richard, think about getting SNAP. This is a benefit you paid for. Why leave $$$ on the table?”
The barriers to SNAP for seniors are great. Seniors resist going to a pantry, soup kitchen, getting SNAP until they simply cannot resist any longer. I know the feeling. People in my age category grew up and entered adulthood feeling that if we worked hard and paid our taxes, we would end up okay. We worked all our lives with this attitude and now that we’re retired…there simply isn’t enough.
When this happens, we feel inadequate and blame ourselves. “I must have done something wrong. Here I am living hand-to-mouth. I don’t even have enough $$$ for food. What did I do wrong?”
We are a whole generation of people blaming ourselves. I feel like we’re really not totally to blame for being food insecure.
I tell myself the rules have changed. This pandemic has shifted everything. Because we’re retired, we’re not in the rules-making game anymore.
Whatever happened to the Grey Panthers?
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When an economy tanks, hungry people find the food pantry. The tanked economy of 2008 has been referred to many times in the past few days on the news. References to past broken economies are made every day.
The situation is very different this time, but for the hungry people, the situation is the same.
In 2008, New York got with the program quickly, it seemed. The Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program people handed down guidelines mandating specific foods for the pantry room. Produce, whole-grain bread, eggs, dairy products appeared on the shelves. Crowds and an ever-lengthening hallway line became the norm.
In Woodstock, the pantry attracted several hundred hungry people to its basement room every pantry day. The line formed outside the door at 1:00 for the 3:00 opening, regardless of the weather. Hungry people who visited the pantry a week ago and took home groceries, would today be out of food and need more.
Today, in 2020, some pantries are closed. That puts even more pressure on the pantries that are open. Food pantry volunteers are not only serving more and more hungry people because of the layoffs of the pandemic. They are also serving people who shopped at the now-closed pantries.
When people live close to the edge, they have no reliable cushion. They’ve lived in a situation where they make choices every day: food or medicine, food or rent, food or gas. Now, when the coronavirus strikes, they have no either/or choices.
Food pantry volunteers take precautions. They take temperatures as volunteers enter the pantry. Volunteers wash hands repeatedly and adhere to the six-foot social distancing guidelines.
But the need for food is not imaginary.
Volunteers are realistic. They can’t kid themselves into believing nothing will happen to them because they feed hungry people. They know they’re taking chances. They also know they are doing a needed job. For many volunteers, it’s something they need to do.
There are no words for this feeling.
I have a small thank-you gift for you. All you have to do is email your name and mailing address to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you, free of charge, with no strings attached, a small book about a food pantry I used to work in – “Miracles”.
Thank you for all you do…not only for volunteering in a food pantry but also for shopping at a food pantry. Your actions are courageous. Following your inner moral compass is also courageous.
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