Food bank launching program aimed at seniors

Food bank launching program aimed at seniors

URBANA — The golden years are arriving with bare cupboards for some older adults, but help is on the way.

The Eastern Illinois Foodbank is launching a senior grocery program today with $40,000 in funding through the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois, and plans to use the money to get more food to seniors in a 14-county area.

Initially, two groups feeding seniors in Champaign County will gain more food to distribute through this program. They include Food for Seniors, which already provides groceries to a limited number of low-income seniors in Champaign-Urbana, and a senior grocery program for residents of Washington Square apartments in Champaign, a collaboration of Church of the Brethren and New Covenant Fellowship.

More food for seniors will become available throughout the foodbank's region as additional pantries and programs become participants in the grocery program, says foodbank spokeswoman Julie Melton.

The number of seniors who don't know where their next meal is coming from isn't widespread, but there are pockets of food insecurity among seniors ranging from 13-41 percent in some areas, says Andrea Rundell, the foodbank's director of programs.

"We're seeing pockets of need that are really, really high — higher than almost any other group," she said.

These aren't seniors who dine out and travel. These are folks making choices between putting some food on the table and paying the doctor.

Rundell said the numbers of needier seniors has been quietly rising because they are the nation's fastest-growing age demographic and many were affected by the recession. Unable to work and with their savings gone, "they're finding themselves in a bad situation," she said.

Adults ages 50-65 are statistically in a worse position across the U.S. than their older counterparts, Rundell said. They may have been aged out of jobs or laid off and unable to get back into the work force with the higher likelihood of employers hiring younger people, she said.

Complicating hunger issues for seniors is the age group is less likely to sign up for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, formerly known as food stamps, than other age groups, Rundell said.

The online process can be a hurdle for some seniors and some may be reluctant to take what they see as a hand-out, she said.

The message she and others trying to help hope to convey to this group: "This is not a handout. You are entitled to have food, and you are not taking it from somebody else."

Dawn Blackman, a Church of the Brethren volunteer who regularly delivers food and garden produce in season to Washington Square residents, said this extra food is much needed.

A lot of seniors are hurting and some people seem to be running out of benefits to buy food before the end of the month, she said.

"One lady said yesterday she didn't have bread and she didn't have money," Blackman said.

Rundell said the foodbank will be using the funding — being made available through the Barclay & Frederick Brasch Endowment for Seniors — to develop new pantries to serve seniors throughout the 14-county region.

And the program is aiming not only to make greater quantities of food available to seniors at risk, she said, but to make more nutritious foods available that are better suited to senior health — such as foods lower in sodium, sugar and fat.

Seniors at risk of hunger also have a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease, so buying cheaper, higher-fat, higher sugar and higher-sodium foods are "not the kind of stuff you want to be eating," she said.

The Eastern Illinois Foodbank is a primary source of food for food pantries, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and programs fighting hunger in Champaign, Clark, Clay, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, Douglas, Edgar, Ford, Iroquois, Jasper, Moultrie, Piatt and Vermilion counties.

Hungry elders

— 30 percent of foodbank client households with seniors said they had to choose between food and medical care, and 35 percent said it was a choice between food and paying for heat/utilities, according to Feeding America.

— On average, low-income adults over age 60 receive $119 a month through the SNAP (food stamps) program, but three out of five seniors who qualify for the program don't apply, the National Council on Aging says.

— 4.8 million Americans over age 60 were "food insecure," meaning they didn't know where their next meal was coming from, in 2011. That number was projected to rise by 50 percent by 2025 when the youngest of the baby boomers reach age 60.

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