Randy Smith has been on Iona’s staff for more than seven years. In that time, he’s worn many hats as a social worker, advocate, and problem-solver. Read how he supports our older neighbors in this Q&A.
How long have you been working at Iona?
Since June 2010.
What is your job? Can you walk through a typical day?
I am a social work case manager and my clients are seniors. They are often low income, and we help them under a grant from the DC Office on Aging. Every day is completely different and unexpected.
Generally, I’m responding to unexpected situations that come up on short notice that varies widely from helping a client navigate the complicated hospital system and discharge process to enrolling them in a variety of city programs that include home delivered meals and tax breaks. My work really varies. I’ve installed air conditioning units. I’ve organized pest removal like helping someone prepare for spraying for bed bugs. I’ve helped clients move or declutter. I organize financial records and help them get the essential legal documents that they often lack.
In terms of nutrition, can you talk about some of the challenges your clients face?
Nutrition and access to healthy food is a basic right and a fundamental need of all of our clients. It’s particularly challenging not only because of the expense of food, but also because so many seniors are homebound. That means they are unable to get to a store themselves. Additionally, many can’t enroll online in a grocery delivery service because they don’t have a computer, or don’t know how to use a computer. And it’s expensive.
Many of my clients also have failing eyesight. So, even if they were to have a computer, they can’t read the size type. And bigger type is hard to follow. It goes off the screen. For someone who has low vision, the challenges are enormous.
But, I’d say that the biggest challenge in getting food is mobility. Most of my clients can’t drive anymore. So, they have to walk to and from the store, and carry heavy bags. If you have trouble just getting out of your apartment building, walking several blocks to a grocery store is an impossible task. For example, I have one client who had a stroke. She can’t take a step. She can’t go up a stair. So, Iona’s home delivered meals and food pantry are very key.
How often do you turn to Iona’s Emergency Food Pantry?
It’s hard for me to say for certain, but it’s there for emergencies or to supplement a client if their food sources are lacking. Obviously, I don’t know when an emergency will occur, but it’s vital that I can react immediately.
Just this month, I had a dual emergency on the same day.
Over the weekend, two different clients had gone to the grocery store and discovered that their Food Stamps had expired on October 31st and were not recharged for November. They were running out of food and both were in distress over the prospect of having nothing to eat.
So, I was able to visit both clients to complete the nine-page Food Stamp application. But to alleviate their immediate food shortage, I took items from our food pantry knowing that recertifying each client’s Food Stamps could take several weeks. I brought shelf-stable milk, fruit cups, boxed cereal, whole wheat pasta, and cans of soup, tuna fish, vegetables, and beans. A healthy selection that would meet the current crisis and, hopefully, tide them over for several weeks while I advocated with the DC Department of Human Services to expedite their Food Stamp reapproval.
Do you see trends in terms of when you use the Emergency Food Pantry?
I definitely go to the food pantry more in the winter. Just imagine this common scenario: a senior in their 80s who already has difficult walking to the store is now faced with a sidewalk covered with snow or ice. It’s now a very real threat that they will slip and fall on the way to or from a grocery store. That makes grocery shopping dangerous. And, it’s not practical or affordable to take a taxi to and from a grocery store.
Why does your work matter to you?
It is important and vital that we support our aging population. These are usually longtime city residents. In many cases they grew up here, and have lived their entire lives here. It would just be wrong to abandon them in their years when they just need some extra help to survive.
No one should ever starve to death because they can’t get to a grocery store or can’t afford food. It’s just not morally acceptable. We have an obligation as a society and as a city to support the seniors who have contributed so much to the fabric of life in Washington.
Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday, a global day to celebrate generosity and to give back. Our goal for #GivingTuesday is to raise the equivalent of 150 grocery bags so that our emergency food pantry is ready to go when our clients need us most. We turn to this pantry when our clients are desperate for food – after a hospitalization discharge, if resources are tight, when winter storms hit, and other crises. Thank you for keeping your older neighbors in your heart this holiday season.