VALLEY — La Puente’s Hunger Education Week continues educating community members about the reality of hunger the in the San Luis Valley. The scourge of food insecurity affects Americans across all demographics, but senior citizens in the United States often face unique challenges in regards to hunger.
According to the hunger relief organization Feeding America, approximately 5.5 million senior citizens face hunger; by the time the youngest of the Baby Boomer Generation reaches 60 in 2025, the number of food insecure seniors is expected to increase by 50 percent.
The elderly face particular challenges when it comes to food insecurity. Many seniors live on severely limited incomes, usually having to stretch a modest retirement budget to cover a multitude of expenses. Feeding America found that 63 percent of senior households they served had to make a choice at some point between purchasing food and paying medical bills.
Seniors are also more likely to face issues of accessibility. A “Journal of Nutrition” study reports that oftentimes, even seniors who have enough funds to purchase food are unable to do so because of a lack of transportation or other physical mobility problems. Accessibility issues concurrently limit which charitable resources the elderly are able to receive. Too often community support that might ease the financial burden of purchasing food, such as local food banks or soup kitchens, is available but older individuals don’t have the means to access it.
Food insecurity is more than just hunger; food insecurity, and the likely potential for malnutrition, can have significant detrimental effects on an individual’s well being. A lack of proper nutrition can negatively affect a person’s physical health, brain development, and overall well being. Seniors in particular are already more likely to deal with a variety of medical issues; oftentimes medical conditions common among older individuals like high blood pressure or diabetes can be regulated and eased by specific diets. Adversely, a poor diet can often exacerbate these issues, and many healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables and foods low in sodium and fat can be difficult for low-income seniors to afford.
In the San Luis Valley, seniors receive assistance in part through South-Central Colorado Seniors, an “Area Agency on Aging” organization that serves the San Luis Valley. SCCS provides food assistance through a variety of programs, including congregate meals at nine meal sites throughout the valley and “homebound” meals for individuals unable to leave their homes without assistance. However, even this generous assistance sometimes isn’t enough. Lynette Cotton, director of the Alamosa Senior Center, reports that some seniors who visit the center say they only have one meal over the course of the weekend, until they can receive their next free SCCS lunch the following Monday. Seniors can also access any one of the 15 food pantries in La Puente’s Food Bank Network of the San Luis Valley. Last year, 1,900 seniors visited the Alamosa Food Bank to seek assistance with food.
In addition to issues of transportation and limited income, Monica Wolfe, the program administrator at SCCS, suggests that an adherence to an ideal of self-sufficiency might be another aspect holding seniors back from utilizing the resources available to them. She says, “I think that some people are very proud, and they don’t go out and seek the help that they need. I think that’s a big issue. We see that even in our services. We have the funds to help them but people won’t take those services.”
Despite the obstacles, it is essential that we ensure that every senior has adequate accessibility to nutritious food. This country’s senior citizens deserve to age comfortably, healthfully, and with dignity. Please contact the Food Bank Network of the San Luis Valley for more information on fighting hunger amongst seniors 719-589-4567.
Correction to yesterday’s “Hunger Advocacy” article. The Hunger Advocacy Happy Hour will be at Square Peg Brewerks, Thursday the 26th from 4-6 p.m.