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Working to End Hunger Among Older Americans

Your donations help provide meals to people 50-plus who are in need

Hunger is a serious issue for older Americans: Nearly 9 million people age 50 and older are at risk of hunger, including 4.9 million 50- to 59-year-olds, according to research released in 2011 by AARP Foundation, the charitable affiliate of AARP.

At AARP Foundation, we’re working to alleviate senior hunger and prevent older Americans from falling into a crisis situation — say, having to choose between buying food or buying medicine.

Your donations help fight hunger by supporting the initiatives below.

Helping Eligible Seniors Apply for Food Assistance

At-risk seniors don’t have to rely only on local food banks for their food. They can take advantage of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) offered by the federal government. Among people 60-plus, two-thirds who are eligible for SNAP don’t receive it. Getting more eligible older people to enroll in SNAP is one of the chief objectives of Drive to End Hunger. Last September, working with the AARP Georgia state office, AARP Foundation began a pilot program in the Atlanta area.

AARP Foundation and AARP Georgia recruited and trained 75 volunteers to staff a call center, where people could get help applying. We placed ads in community newspapers, church bulletins, and on five Atlanta radio stations. The message: You shouldn’t have to choose what’s more important, food or medicine. Call to learn how SNAP benefits could help you or someone you care about.

The phones have been ringing for four months. More than 1,300 people have asked for help, and to date 75 percent have qualified for SNAP. The demand has been so great that volunteers now hold special events at libraries, senior centers and community organizations to help people apply for benefits.

Take the case of Roswell, Ga., resident Rose Harris, 82. She never thought she’d have to ask for help buying food. She retired in 1993, downsized to a two-bedroom condo, made some money renting the extra bedroom to foreign students attending a nearby English language school, and figured she was set for life.

But then the school moved to the other side of Atlanta and the students stopped coming. Next the pension from her first job ended. Last October, her 401(k) from her second job ran out.  All she had left was $662 in monthly Social Security benefits. Once she paid for supplemental Medicare insurance and condo fees, she had $160 a month for everything else.

“When a friend suggested food stamps, I was horrified. I thought they were still the kind you pulled out of a little book and handed over to the cashier while everyone watched,” she said. But when she heard about one of the SNAP events nearby, she went. She was hungry, and not only for information.

There, she met AARP Foundation’s SNAP Program Specialist, Maria Najlis, who helped her apply. Once she received her electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card with her SNAP benefits, though, she was too nervous to use it.  “I didn’t want anyone to think I was taking food money away from someone who really needed it, especially a child,” she says — a common misconception, especially among older people.

The manager of her local Publix taught her how to swipe the card and reassured her that many of her fellow customers relied on SNAP, too — it was nothing to be ashamed of. “My advice to anyone older who needs help is ‘Go for it!’ I’ve lived so long and tried to do the best I could. I’ve raised my children and I’ve always paid my taxes,” she says. “Now, SNAP makes my life better and keeps me healthier as I grow older. I am so grateful — I have no idea how I could live without it now,” she says.  

Similar efforts have paid off across the country. In 2011, more than 26,000 people received public benefits screenings, applications and application assistance from AARP Foundation.

Drive to End Hunger

In 2011, its first year, the Drive to End Hunger campaign provided more than 5.8 million nutritious meals to hungry adults. AARP and AARP Foundation created Drive to End Hunger to raise awareness and funds to end hunger among older Americans. In February 2011, AARP became NASCAR's first cause-based primary sponsor with Drive to End Hunger featured on Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet. The effort raises the visibility of hunger while collecting cash and food donations in NASCAR race markets across the country.

Last year, AARP Foundation raised $13.7 million and helped 20 food banks across the nation through Drive to End Hunger. We’re ready to continue this momentum in 2012.

Also of interest: AARP Foundation 2012 Hunger Grant Awards. >>

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