Why you matter when it comes to senior hunger

November 20, 2017

“There can’t possibly be hungry seniors in Ward 3 neighborhoods?!?!”

This is a belief we regularly hear at Iona. The truth may surprise you: ALL older adults are particularly vulnerable to the effects of food insecurity, hunger, and sub-optimal nutrition. Yes, even those who live in Ward 3.

Factors such as poor appetite, unintentional weight loss and frailty, isolation, decreased mobility, cognitive decline, psychosocial and mental health issues, nutrient deficiencies, poor oral health, and lack of transportation are common contributing factors to senior food insecurity and malnutrition. And yet, senior malnutrition is often a “hidden secret.”

Here at Iona, the “hidden hungry” are a reality (though not so “hidden” to us). They are some of our clients.

Take for example, a client who is a 77 year old male. Last June, he was referred to Iona’s nutritionist by his social worker because he had lost 63 pounds in six months. He looked haggard, weak, and underweight. He’d had all kinds of sophisticated and costly medical tests  to rule out everything from an undiagnosed malignancy to gastrointestinal disease.

All of the testing was inconclusive and provided no cause for his unintentional weight loss.

Did anyone think to investigate his nutritional situation or ask this man if he had enough food to eat before thousands of dollars were spent on medical tests? Such a simple, basic human need and right – to have sufficient good-quality food to eat in order to maintain health and a good quality of functioning and life.

Yet, here is an older adult who recently had only $7.00 left of his monthly income to last him the 10 days before he would get another social security check deposit in his bank account. In fact, he was so low on funds that he literally did not have enough money to buy food after the middle of the month.

For this client and many others like him, senior hunger is a health issue with very high personal and economic costs.

How did Iona help him?

First, he was enrolled in our home delivered meals program, and receives 10 fresh Mom’s Meals delivered every two weeks. He also participates in our Weekend Meals program, receiving one hot and one cold meal delivered by our wonderful volunteers every Saturday. He receives several cases of a high calorie/high protein Boost Glucose Control liquid nutrition supplements per month, courtesy of the DC Office on Aging nutrition supplement program and donations from the community.

He also receives a monthly donated food package valued at $45 through the Blessed Sacrament SHARE bulk grocery program. His amazing social worker restored his $18.00 per month SNAP (food stamp) benefit, got him new dentures, and also takes him regular deliveries from Iona’s food pantry.

Today, he has a steady weight, normal blood sugars (he has diabetes), a better sense of well-being, a community of friends, and a good level of energy and functioning.

How can you help?

Putting an end to senior hunger and food insecurity in Washington, DC requires a coordinated effort by multiple stakeholders. It also requires the continued support of Iona’s nutrition and other lifesaving services.

After all, food assistance is often the first type of support sought and accepted by older adults in need. It also serves as a foot-in-the-door for us to offer additional services.

We need you in the winter

With the winter comes even greater threats to our older neighbors who are already struggling.

They risk falling on icy sidewalks, illness, greater isolation, and being forced to cut back on groceries to pay for medications and a heating bill.

On #GivingTuesday, Iona is raising funds to ensure no older neighbor has to choose between staying warm and eating.

For just $45, you can help Iona purchase a bag of healthy groceries for our emergency food pantry. 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.

Our goal is to have 150 grocery bags ready for the coming cold months.

Give a grocery bag here.