Hunger Relief through the eyes of a SNAP (food stamps) Outreach Coordinator

December 15, 2010 § Leave a comment

by Kelly Waterman, SNAP Outreach Coordinator

I should start this post by explaining that I’ve always had a special affection for my elders.  I love their stories, their unapologetic personalities, and their insightful words of wisdom.  Perhaps I’m just an ‘old soul’ myself, but I distinctly remember being as young as 12, spending an afternoon with some women at a retirement community and having a blast!

In high school, I established an especially close relationship with an elderly couple, Lloyd, and Margaret, who, unfortunately, couldn’t have children. We met when I was in the 10th grade and became a fast friend. Since then, they have supported me and watched me grow into the woman I am today. Only last spring, Lloyd lost the love of his life to her battle with cancer. She died at 84, just 10 days before their 60th wedding anniversary. Since then, I have gained a new and intimate look at the realities of aging, here, in America.

Lloyd has freely admitted to me that growing old is not easy, especially growing old alone, while facing illness, loss of mobility, and a small social support network. All of these difficulties are only further compounded by the fact that he is scraping by on a fixed income.

Lloyd’s situation is not unique; in fact, population experts estimate that by 2020 there will be 50 million Americans over the age of 65. However, the unfortunate reality is that our society oftentimes turns a blind eye to our elders.  Not only do elderly people have to deal with typical issues associated with aging, but oftentimes they do it on a tight fixed income. Many retired individuals in the US rely solely on their income from social security to keep them afloat. It’s no surprise that after paying medical bills, rent or mortgage, utilities, and prescriptions, there isn’t much left for things as vital as food.

As a SNAP (food stamps) Outreach Coordinator with the Capital Area Food Bank, I see the struggles seniors face daily, and it hits particularly close to home.  It’s a painful experience to explain to a person that because of their income from Social Security (usually around $900/mo), they are only eligible for $20 in food stamp benefits. I get mixed reactions when I tell people this information. Some feel angry or upset that they cannot receive more, others refuse to jump through the “government’s hoops” for such a small amount of money, and, many of them gratefully apply, insisting that something is better than nothing.

With so many seniors eligible for only $20 or less a month in SNAP benefits, it’s no wonder our hunger study revealed that more than a third of older clients go for extended periods without food, and that Partner Agencies are seeing an increase in the amount of older adults in the hunger lines.

I don’t pretend to know the solution to this dilemma; I’m simply sharing my experience in an effort to inform our community about this real and often silent problem.

I encourage you to spend some time getting to know the older people in your neighborhood, or apartment complex this holiday season.  Hunger has no age limit or expiration date, and it’s up to all of us to make sure our community is well cared for!

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