Roswell resident Rose Harris, 82, never thought she'd have to ask for help buying food. She'd taken a second job to help support herself and her five children when her husband left in 1985. 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.
See Also: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
But then the school moved to the other side of Atlanta, and there was no available public transportation from Rose's neighborhood. The students stopped coming. Next the pension from her first job ended. Last October, her 401K from her second job ran out. All she had left was $662 in monthly Social Security benefits. Out of that, 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 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (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 works out of the AARP Georgia State Office in Atlanta. Najlis helped Rose apply. Once Rose received her SNAP electronic benefit card (similar to a debit card), 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," Rose 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.
With one in every 11 Americans aged 50+ risking hunger, AARP Foundation’s Drive to End Hunger is working to move people like Rose from vulnerability to stability. Nationwide, it’s estimated that fewer than one-third of those eligible for SNAP assistance have applied for it. In Georgia, where nearly 12 percent of residents live below the poverty line, it’s estimated that a little over 9 percent of residents aged 50 and above are threatened by hunger.
With continued support from AARP Foundation, AARP Georgia has now served more than 1,200 eligible SNAP applicants in the state, with recipients expected to receive an average of $119 a month. Active already in Clarke, Cobb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties, AARP Georgia will soon extend SNAP outreach efforts to Oconee, Washington, Baldwin and Bulloch counties.