More hands needed to tackle senior hunger (Guest post: Laura Goldring)

Laura Goldring is CEO and Founder at MaddieLuke, LTD based in Duncan, OK.  An earlier version of this article was posted to LinkedIn.

Photo by Ann / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Ann / CC BY 2.0

If you have not seen the 2013 documentary, “A Place At The Table,” I strongly encourage you to set aside 90 minutes and prepare yourself for the wide range of thoughts and emotions this film will provoke. Regardless of your political position, socially-based opinions, or long-held stereotypes of how poverty functions, I am confident you will be challenged in your thinking at least once and will find yourself pondering how you can begin to make a difference in your own little corner of the world.

My little corner of the world is Southwest Oklahoma. My husband and I own a small for-profit company that facilitates service delivery for the supportive services aspect of the Older Americans Act. The Older Americans Act is one of a very few programs whose service delivery is not based on an individual meeting the low-income threshold. Specifically, we provide outreach, health promotion, help with chores, home repair, caregiver respite, caregiver support groups, grandparent respite, and grandparent support groups services to individuals aged 60+ and caregivers.

Food insecurity is something we see face-to-face on a weekly basis. It is spread across our eight-county service area. It shows no distinction when it comes to race, living environment, age, community standing, or previous work experience. The one thing individuals suffering from food insecurity do have in common is an inability to provide ample food for themselves and their families.

[pullquote]”Food insecurity shows no distinction when it comes to race, living environment, age, community standing, or previous work experience.”[/pullquote]Does this mean that every person who is food insecure is hovering at or below the poverty line? No. Does this mean that every person who is food insecure has a low enough income to qualify for SNAP (Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program) or other food assistance programs? No. Anecdotally speaking, our average customer is slightly above the poverty line; this means that they do not qualify for any food assistance programs, including our local food banks. And yet, they are reporting to us that they limit themselves to one meal per day to stretch their food budget as far as possible, but still find themselves going without at the end of the month. The majority of our customers are living on a fixed income such as SSI (Supplemental Security Income),  which is not stretching far enough to cover prescription medication, utility bills, and food. So, our senior citizens are forced to choose every single month between managing their health, maintaining a place to live, and having enough to eat.

These individuals who make up the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomer Generation as a whole have been self-reliant, hardworking, and completely independent most of their lives. They have put their time, effort, and talent into a system that promised to take care of them when they retired. They were confident that they would be able to live comfortably in their own home with the basic necessities well taken care of and no concerns about when they were going to eat their next meal. Now, they find themselves depending more and more on people outside of their own family to help take care of them and keep them in their own home as long as possible.

Programs provided through the Older Americans Act are helping to take care of our senior citizens, but the gap is far too wide for just one entity to bridge. The majority of the programs available to our customers require them to be at or below the poverty line, and it doesn’t matter if they are just a few dollars away from qualifying. There is a desperate need for local organizations, churches, and communities to develop privately funded resources (without the funding restrictions of grants and government programs) that are available to those suffering from food insecurity who do not qualify for other assistance. While this may seem overwhelming initially, it can be something as simple as hosting a canned food drive for specific recipients once a quarter or arranging community dinners on a monthly basis.

There is also a need to continually educate and remind our elected officials that hunger in America is an ever-growing problem that needs to be effectively addressed. On a national level, it would be easy to become discouraged with the lack of visible progress. But, if we could focus efforts on a smaller scale, beginning with our neighbors down the street, we could change the quality of life for someone in our own community. Sometimes, the most effective change begins in a very small place and extends outward. Let’s do this together.

The opinions stated above are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

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The opinions stated in guest articles are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

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