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Florida Food-Bank Leaders Say Elder Hunger Rising

Florida Food-Bank Leaders Say Elder Hunger Rising

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Here’s more grim evidence that the Great Recession is biting deep into Florida.

According to Dave Krepcho, president and CEO of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, more than 100,000 Central Florida residents age 50+ must rely on the food bank and its 600 related feeding programs to get enough to eat. That’s just in the six-county area that the food bank serves.

One in three of these clients must choose between buying food and paying medical expenses on a monthly basis. About half must choose between paying for utilities and eating, says Krepcho.

Krepcho’s food bank just set a record of providing enough food for 16.5 million meals in a year – the equivalent of more than 45,200 meals a day.

“I’ve been in this field for 18 years, and this number is still mind-boggling to me,” says Krepcho. “We have a nutritional crisis going on in Florida. It’s a moral issue.”

National studies back up what Krepcho is seeing in Florida. The national Feeding America group found results similar to Krepcho’s in national studies release earlier this year. Also, according to the national Meals on Wheels Association of America – a national umbrella group representing 5,000 senior nutrition programs across the country – the number of older Americans at risk of hunger rose by about 20 percent between 2001 and 2007.

What’s driving the rising hunger?

“A bad economy,” Krepcho says simply. “It’s impacting everyone.”

The issue is more than just simply not having enough to eat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture now defines the problem as “food insecurity” – the gnawing worry that you’ll run out of money in your pocket and food in your pantry before you run out of month. As Krepcho says, older people increasingly are having to make excruciating choices between good nutrition and other needs, such as paying for health care, paying for prescription drugs or being able to pay utilities bills.

A smaller, but still significant, number of older people are actually having to skip meals.

The impacts of inadequate nutrition can be serious at any age, but they can be deadly as we grow older. Krepcho notes that his own father, in his mid-80s and increasingly frail, could “really be in trouble fast” if he didn’t get adequate nutrition. Fortunately, family members are providing first-rate care.

AARP Florida is working to address the issue: AARP members are urged to bring a non-perishable food item with them when they attend the Orlando@50+ National Event & Expo Sept. 30-Oct. 2 in Orlando. Donations go to the Food Bank of Central Florida.

Other food-drive efforts also are being planned elsewhere in the state.

AARP Florida staff in Tallahassee are regular volunteers at Eldercare Services’ Meals on Wheels program, and AARP volunteers throughout the state also are Meals on Wheels supporters or volunteers.

Nationally, AARP is working with government officials to heighten awareness of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the successor to the former food-stamp program. National studies show that close to half of older Americans eligible for SNAP benefits aren’t using them – even if they may need help to have enough to eat.

One challenge is that SNAP applications are most often filled out in online systems. Armed with wireless-equipped laptops, 11 full-time Central Florida food bank staffers help elders and others apply for the program.

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