By Becky Gradl, MPH, RD, LDN, CHES®, Contributing Writer
Food insecurity is a problem for many seniors — but exactly what is “food insecurity”?
Food insecurity is defined as a lack of access to enough food in order to have an active, healthy life. Seniors are often on limited incomes and/or are unable to get out to purchase food, both of which are causes of their food insecurity.
The good news is that there are many resources available to seniors to help them avoid food insecurity. Here are some of those resources:
Food pantries are available in many communities and through some organizations, such as churches. These pantries provide shelf-stable food to those in need throughout the year. Some even provide fresh fruits and vegetables. During summer months, many community gardens grow vegetables specifically for distribution via the food pantries. Typically, these food pantries do not require a person to prove a need for food or financial difficulties, but they might have restrictions on how often a person can receive food. To find local food pantries, check with local government offices, as they might have a food pantry themselves, and if not, might be able to provide a list of local pantries.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly called the Food Stamp Program, is a federal aid program that provides financial assistance specifically for the purchase of groceries. Grocery purchases are limited to products such as breads and cereals, produce, meat, and dairy. The financial amount a person receives is based on the household’s size and income level. A person must be in a lower income bracket (typically within what the government considers the poverty level) in order to receive the assistance. To be considered for SNAP benefits, a person must apply through his or her state government and will need to be re-approved on a regular basis.
Older adult community markets
Some communities offer “older adult choice markets,” where seniors can go on a regular schedule to pick up fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as shelf-stable food. These markets are often held in locations that are convenient for seniors to access. The food provided to seniors is free of charge. Some of these community markets even provide delivery to seniors that are not able pick up the food.
Senior or community centers
Many communities also have a senior center or community center where seniors can go to have a hot meal. These meals meet federal standards for nutrition so that the senior is receiving a portion of their daily nutrition needs. They often charge a small fee, such as a couple of dollars, to cover the cost of the meal. Besides having a hot meal, the senior or community center provides a way for a senior to get out and be able to socialize with others. Contact your town or city’s local government to see if such a food program exists in your area for seniors.
Meals on Wheels
Often seniors are not able to leave the home to participate in community meals. For seniors who are homebound, Meals on Wheels can be a great resource so a senior can have a hot, healthy meal. The meals are prepared to meet federal standards for nutrition. Meals on Wheels delivers the meal to the senior’s home daily. A regular delivery of Meals on Wheels also provides the benefit of someone checking in on a senior who lives alone and may not have contact with many people.
If you or your loved one has food insecurity, the following are resources to find more information on how to get access to food:
- SNAP: https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap
- Meals on Wheels: https://www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org
- Food assistance in Chicago: https://www.cnnssa.org
- Food assistance in Denver: https://www.hungerfreecolorado.org/food-assistance-for-seniors/
Some information courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.