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Aug. 15, 2022, 3:14 p.m. EDT

‘I don’t have many people visiting me’—You may be surprised to learn that your neighbor is going hungry

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By Randi Mazzella

This article is reprinted by permission from  .

My teenage son and I volunteered together for a local Meals on Wheels program in the summer of 2020, when COVID had caused an uptick in the need for home meal delivery services and a decrease in volunteers.

We were assigned a route of eight clients, all of whom lived within several miles of our house. My son was initially surprised by the number of older adults in our community who relied on this service.

Indeed, many middle-class and affluent people are surprised when they learn that some of their neighbors, including millions of older adults, grapple with food insecurity — defined as limited or uncertain access to adequate food.

“There is a lack of understanding regarding the food insecurity, hunger and isolation many seniors experience,” says Ellie Hollander, president and chief executive officer of Meals on Wheels America.

“The public may think the issues are only occurring in certain areas or that food insecurity is temporary, brought on by situations like the pandemic. But in fact, many seniors from all different places and backgrounds struggle with food insecurity for various reasons,” she says.

Patricia Arthur, 71, is a Meals on Wheels client in Richmond, Virginia. “I am blind, so I can’t cook for myself and it’s hard for me to go out on my own to get food,” she says. “It’s something my daughter, who works a lot, really worried about. Thankfully, there is Meals on Wheels to deliver nutritious meals to me.”

See: Do something good that’s good for you too: Start volunteering

What is food insecurity?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture  defines  food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.

Feeding America , a nationwide network of more than 200 nonprofit food banks, said in its most recent report on  The State of Senior Hunger  that 5.2 million older adults (1 in 15) were food insecure in 2020. They are more likely to face hunger if they identify as Black, Latino, or Native American, have lower incomes, or are disabled.

As the country’s older population continues to grow, so will the future challenges.

The causes of food insecurity vary, Hollander explains. “There are both economic and social issues at play. Older adults are usually retired and on a fixed income. After paying for rent, utilities and medications, they may not have enough money left for proper nutrition,” she says. “Or they may have medical issues that make it impossible to shop for food or cook meals.”

Adding to that, many children and grandchildren moved in with their parents during the pandemic. “Older adults may choose to feed their families and go hungry themselves,” she says.

Read : How to save up to 50% on your grocery bill and reduce food waste

Empathy for those struggling

Feeding America CEO Claire Babineaux-Fontenot says that while there is empathy for those facing food insecurity, more needs to be done. “There is a misguided view sometimes of ‘earned hunger’ and those older adults facing food insecurity did something wrong that caused the issue,” she says. “It’s not that they didn’t work hard their whole life or plan well. Food insecurity can happen to anyone at any time.”

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