Nationwide, hunger among older Americans has increased 80 percent in the last 10 years. Maine now ranks highest in New England for what is known as “food insecurity” among those 50+.
See Also: The Drive to End Hunger
The economic downtown of the last several years hit many retirees hard. They’ve watched their savings dwindle or even disappear and, depending on their age and health, it may not be possible to recoup those losses. Further, 1/3 of those on Social Security in Maine rely on their benefit for 100% of their income. When one considers the rising cost of food, fuel, and basic living necessities, making ends meet is becoming more of a burden for many Maine seniors. Some must even choose between paying their utility bills, buying food or paying rent.
The bottom line: Many older Americans are finding that, despite efforts to plan for the future, circumstances beyond their control have left them vulnerable.
It Could Happen to Anyone
Most food pantry clients never thought they would be in this situation. Claire and Lou from Aroostook County ran small businesses for many years and had a sizeable nest egg. Then Lou suffered a series of strokes. Claire dropped everything to care for Lou, but the money didn’t last long and she was unable to keep up with his mounting home care costs. Lou is now in a nursing home. Claire is a client at the local food pantry. During the leaner months, she has less than $13.00 a week for food. Claire is just 60 years old.
In Central Maine, Bill worked hard his entire life until he suffered a heart attack and diabetic-related seizures. His wife has early stage Parkinson’s disease. They had to move in with their daughter. Bill and his wife take 30 medications daily. They depend on the local food pantry and fear they will eventually end up in a state-run facility.
One Maine food pantry manager, Jim Roche, explains that assumptions about food pantry clients can lead to misunderstandings: “Just because people look like they have money for food, doesn’t mean they do,” he says. “We have clients who had jobs and lost them. Others are overwhelmed trying to take care of family members. You just can’t go by appearances and start guessing what’s really going on.”
How You Can Help: 6 ideas that can make a difference
- Donate to your local food pantry. Just $1 can feed 8 people.
- Help a neighbor/friend sign up for SNAP (food stamps) to help pay for their groceries.
- Adopt a food pantry. Work with your community organizations to hold monthly food drives.
- Volunteer locally! The United Way, the Good Shepard Food Bank, Bread for the World, or the Area Agency on Aging are great places to start.
- Lend a hand at an AARP chapter for our annual “chapter challenge.” Last year, our six chapters in Maine collected over four tons of food for local food pantries.
- Donate your home-grown fresh produce to Maine Harvest for Hunger.