We often think of systemic hunger as an inner-city problem, or as something you might find in the backwoods of rural America. But the truth is that no matter where we live, some of our neighbors are hungry.
In fact, a study released last year by the Kellogg Company found that there are millions more people living in food insecurity in suburban America than in inner cities. Feeding America, the national network of food banks and food pantries, notes that almost one in 10 seniors who live alone are food insecure, which is defined as lacking reliable access to nutritious food. Many others may have the financial means to purchase a sufficient amount of healthy foods but lack the resources to go to the grocery or the ability to prepare it properly.
Part of this is due to changing demographics and part of it likely can be attributed to recent economic events. Older couples living a contented retirement can be cast into food insecurity by events beyond their control.
For example, Bill and Diane, a couple in their seventies in a suburban Midwest community, were living the life they had planned in retirement using a combination of savings and Bill’s pension. When pension benefits were reduced, they just cut back on non-essential spending.
But when their daughter was diagnosed with cancer, and they took in their granddaughter, there were suddenly more expenses in the month than income to cover them.
Fortunately, alert neighbors and friends noticed and were able to help Diane and Bill individually and to direct them to community resources for essential support.
This support is a critical issue for caregivers because not all seniors are as lucky. People who have supported themselves their entire lives can be – deservedly – quite proud. It is often difficult for them to advocate for themselves when they fall behind. Poor nutrition leads to many negative consequences aside from hunger. Heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and even mental health issues can be exacerbated by an unhealthy diet.
It’s up to us, those who love and care for the elderly or those suspected of being in nutritious distress, to be conscious of subtle clues. Notice empty refrigerators, expired pantry items or even a vagueness about when and what they’ve eaten. Be aware of resources in your community, such as aid programs or civic and church organizations that stand ready to offer support. Be their advocates when they can’t find the words themselves.
The National Council on Aging has a resource for identifying support in your community. You can access the tool at https://www.benefitscheckup.org.
Next week we will recognize National Hunger Awareness Day (June 5). It’s a good time to remember that food insecurity isn’t something that only happens to other people in other places. And that it can be eliminated only if we see it for what it is … in our own families and our own neighborhoods.
Join the conversation on Facebook.