Jayme Koifman can barely afford to eat. The 84-year-old Delray Beach resident receives $100 a month in food stamps, but it is not enough. His $769 Social Security check scarcely covers his rent and utility bills.
So Koifman never misses the weekday free lunch offered by Palm Beach County nonprofit agencies. "It's very, very tough to live like this," he said while waiting for spaghetti and meatballs. "I'd be lost without all this help."
Koifman's struggle is shared by millions of Florida residents:
- The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) assisted 2.7 million Floridians in July, more than double the number three years earlier.
About 310,000 food stamp recipients in July were over 60, yet many others who desperately need food hesitate to apply, said Jennifer Lange, who directs Florida's food assistance program.
"Some may not have a computer, others might be concerned about stigma. And, no, we don't take your house or your car and … there is no asset limit," said Lange. Through outreach, the agency is combating misconceptions. Computers are available at a variety of community partner locations and agency offices, and clients can search for the nearest one on the ACCESS website or they can call 1-866-762-2237 toll-free for assistance.
- About 3 million people a year seek emergency food aid from Florida food banks and kitchens.
"Our distribution levels are even beyond disaster relief levels — we have an ongoing 'disaster' nowadays," said Dave Krepcho, president and CEO of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida.
Four in 10 older Floridians choose between buying food or paying for utilities each month, according to a 2010 hunger study by Feeding America. A third choose between food and gas.
Feeding South Florida, a food bank serving southern counties, handed out 24 million pounds of food in 2009; it projects an increase to 31 million pounds by the end of next year. Anthea Pennant, director of development, said it's a daunting task. With 690,000 South Floridians living in poverty, communities must pitch in, she said. "A lot of people think hunger only exists in other countries. But one out of six Americans are hungry. They are real people who don't know where their next meal is coming from."
- More than 27,000 low-income older people received home-delivered meals from Meals on Wheels last year.
Federal financing for Meals on Wheels has been stagnant while food costs have skyrocketed, said Jon Peck, Florida Department of Elder Affairs communications director. Demand is so high that more than 8,500 older people are on a waiting list; a fourth of them are in the Tampa area.
The need for food assistance shows no sign of slowing.
"The present generation of oldest seniors have been through the Depression and are more reluctant to accept help," Krepcho said. "As people are in their golden years, they are struggling to get adequate nutrition and so many are suffering from hunger. Beyond the hunger, there is a void of dignity for this generation when the basic need of food is not met."
As the holidays approach, AARP urges people to make donations to emergency food programs in their community.
"We're all looking forward to sharing good food and fellowship with family and friends," said AARP Florida state director Lori Parham. "We cannot forget our less fortunate neighbors. Hunger among older Floridians is a growing concern."
Linda Haase is a freelance writer based in Boynton Beach, Fla.