Hunger Among Seniors Getting Community Attention

Hunger among seniors is an often invisible issue that continues to grow, but it is one now capturing community attention.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer this past summer hosted a four-hour summit on the senior hunger epidemic–Senior Hunger – an Issue Starving for Attention–where community leaders learned more than one in five Floridians age 50 and older are now classified as “food insecure” and may not have enough to eat. A follow-up meeting was held where participants agreed there is a need to raise awareness of the issue and to gather more data about senior hunger so they are better able to find solutions.

In the meantime, because very few seniors receive SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) benefits, the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida is training volunteers from the AARP to reach out to seniors who may qualify for them.

The local initiative, supported by a grant from the Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF), is called “It’s a SNAP,” and is focused on enrolling needy seniors in Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville.

Under the program, volunteers are trained to share information at community events targeting the senior population. They will also distribute SNAP postcards in neighborhoods identified as having a high concentration of low-income seniors. And they will encourage faith communities to ask members to be on the lookout for older adults who may need food assistance.

As they are trained, the volunteers learn about the most common misperceptions older adults have of the SNAP program. These include: SNAP is only for families with children; food stamps are welfare; I own my house, so I don’t qualify; I don’t work, so I am not eligible; others need it more than I do; others will think badly of me; I have money in the bank so I will not qualify; I will owe the IRS money if approved; I cannot get Meals-on-Wheels if I get SNAP; I will not qualify if I live with other family members; food stamps are charity; and it is difficult to apply.

Volunteers also learned to keep the message simple and emphasize the nutritional and health benefits of SNAP, the freedom of shopping for the food that the older adult wants in the store of his or her choice, and finally, the benefit of reducing food bills and having more money to spend on other expenses such as medications or utilities.

They will direct interested older adults to contact Second Harvest’s Benefits Connection hotline to facilitate enrollment.

Ultimately, it is hoped that more eligible older adults will enroll in the SNAP program.

“The program is so important because hunger among older adults is an invisible issue, and yet nutrition is so important to healthy aging,” said Diana Silvey, WPHF Program Director, Older Adults.

“It is such a shame that so many benefits are available yet older adults aren’t taking advantage when it could make such a difference to their health,” she said.