When you sit down with your family this holiday season, look around the table. How many of your older loved ones can put food on the table every day? What about your neighbors or the seniors you see at church?
One in four Latinos 50 and older doesn’t know where their next meal is coming from. This translates into nearly nine million older adults in the United States. Isn’t this supposed to be the land of plenty?
The reality is that every day, millions of our seniors have to make the devastating choice between paying for medicine or buying food. AARP Foundation believes that this should not be a choice.
We work to address the heartbreaking and often hidden problem of senior hunger by creating innovative approaches to alleviate the problem in communities across the nation.
AARP and AARP Foundation launched Drive to End Hunger in 2010. To date, through charitable contributions, food drives and other special activities, we have donated more than 27 million meals and driven organizational and individual donor commitments with an expected value of more than $21 million.
But the numbers only tell a part of the story. Our goal is to help millions of struggling seniors move from vulnerability to stability, take control and move forward as a source of help for others.
One of the many older adults AARP Foundation has helped is Hilda – a 67 year-old Latina who worked in a factory for many years until it closed down. She was diagnosed with diabetes and lives on Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Monthly she had to make the very real decision whether to buy her medication or food. AARP Foundation helped to connect her to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Without SNAP, “I see myself struggling even more between food and bills.” And her diabetes would also suffer for this stress.
Connecting older adults to SNAP is but one prong in a multi-pronged effort to identify near-term and long-term solutions to solve the problem of hunger once and for all.
We focus research on understanding older adult hunger and its barriers so that we can find solutions. And, because good ideas can come from anywhere or anyone, we have also widened our base of problem solvers through crowdsourcing and other unique approaches.
We commissioned “Food Insecurity among Older Adults” to look at hunger from the perspective of those 50-59 – a first ever report for this age cohort. A key finding was that Latinos 50-59 were twice as likely to be a risk of hunger as whites.
AARP Foundation has targeted outreach efforts in 13 communities that have a high percentage of food-insecure older residents. The vast majority of the work is through a corps of volunteers who connect those eligible to SNAP—like Hilda.
Across the nation, we award “Hunger Innovation Grants” to either support a program with demonstrated success but in need of additional funding or to start an entirely new approach to combat older hunger.
One such grant went to the Centro de Salud La Fey Policy Institute in San Antonio, TX for their Community Engaged Nutrition Action (CENA) project to develop and test a senior, peer-to-peer Animador (community promoter) model to reduce food insecurity and hunger among Mexican American older adults.
In 2010, AARP Foundation and AARP began an unprecedented collaboration with Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon: the first-ever cause-related primary sponsorship. With Jeff Gordon behind the wheel of the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet, we have worked to bring awareness about the tragedy of older adult hunger to the 75 million NASCAR fans and raised funds to support the hunger work of AARP Foundation.
For other audiences, AARP Foundation is supporting media efforts such as “Hungry in the West End” – an award winning documentary created by AARP Rhode Island – based in West End Providence, Rhode Island – a neighborhood that is 65 percent Hispanic.
Told from the perspective of older people who struggle every day with hunger, the film opens with a story of an older couple knocking on the door of a food pantry. “My wife makes a wonderful tuna fish sandwich,” the husband tells the volunteer at the door, “with our cat food.”
As part of our work to increase awareness, we have a commitment to work with a multi-cultural lens which is why we continue to work with LATINO Magazine and No Mas Hambre.
But we can’t do this alone. We need your help.
This holiday season, take a close look at your older family, friends and neighbors and see if you can find someone hiding in the shadows of hunger…right at your own table.
Lisa Marsh Ryerson is the President of the AARP Foundation. Follow her on Twitter at @PresRyerson.