Last week we highlighted government programs that seniors on a limited income can sign up for to increase their access to fresh produce. In this post we will highlight the local programs that seniors and their families or caregivers can turn to.
According to Meals on Wheels (formerly Meals on Wheels Association of America) there are only two states--Minnesota and Wisconsin--where less than 10 percent the senior population struggles with hunger. To remedy this unfortunate reality, numerous community-based organizations across the United States work tirelessly to feed the millions of seniors who struggle with access to food.
Meals on WheelsAmong the most well-known nationwide organizations is Meals on Wheels. They have more than 5,000 local programs that may either home deliver meals or provide them in a congregate setting, such as at a senior center. Meal fees are typically based on a sliding scale, so those with lower income pay less. To qualify for these meals, seniors or their families are asked to contact their local program and complete an application to determine their qualifications.
Unfortunately, they add the caveat that “in many areas of the country, the need for meals far exceeds the resources available to provide them, leading to wait lists and/or being turned away," underlining the demand for food access programs.
Senior CentersSenior centers don't just offer exercise classes or host bingo nights. Meals are provided throughout the week, in addition to the meals provided by the Meals on Wheels program. Some centers may offer lunches or dinner, and for seniors who are able to drive or take the bus to visit the center, these meals can supplement their diet. In some cases there are transportation options available to help seniors who cannot reach the center on their own.
Food BanksFor seniors lacking the discretionary income to spend at the senior center or are unable to participate in the Meals on Wheels program, a local food bank can provide a safety net. And lest you think that food banks offer only processed or packaged food, that's no longer the reality. Increasingly food banks, such as Seattle-based Rainier Valley Food Bank, are now partnering with local farmers and residents to grow and distribute fresh produce to those in need.
Food banks may either be run independently or as part of a larger network such as is the case of Feeding America. Comprised of 200 food banks across the country, this network is responsible for “providing 3.3 billion meals to more than 46 million people.” Additionally, in some areas there are statewide networks such as Washington State’s Northwest Harvest or the Florida Association of Food Banks. Some food banks may even have a delivery option available for seniors unable to travel to the food bank due to mobility or limited access to transportation.
Whether because of pride or lack of awareness about existing programs, the Greatest Generation and baby boomers aren't utilizing the government and local programs in place to prevent hunger despite the life-threatening consequences of malnutrition. Yet if the combined efforts of government, nonprofits and citizens have any say in the matter, fewer seniors will go hungry in the coming decades.