When you think about our community’s most vulnerable citizens, it can be easy to overlook a population that can face huge struggles: senior citizens. There is a cultural stereotype of a retired couple living out their “golden years” in comfort, but this is far from the case for many of our older neighbors. Not everyone has a pension, retirement funds or extended family to rely on, and Social Security often doesn’t keep up with the increasing costs of living. Unexpected illness, car or home repairs and other unforeseen circumstances can cause huge stress—emotional, physical and financial—for senior citizens.
Claudia Rose-Muir, CCFB’s food sourcing manager, sums up the problem, saying, “The more we delve into the issues of senior hunger, and the more layers we peel back … it is astounding how sad this situation is. The decisions that seniors need make to just exist and have the basic needs of home, heat, food and medicine is hard to swallow.” Claudia shares a specific anecdote about one elderly woman she visited who had a small red microwave oven in her kitchen. “I told her I liked it, and she said with great pride, ‘I love it. It was $49 and I had to save a lot to get it, but now I can heat my food.’”
Here at the Chester County Food Bank, we are taking this growing problem very seriously and have developed programs and partnerships to address this issue. An estimated 11.5% (approximately 7500 people) of the senior population in Chester County is living in poverty, with 6.9 percent of them falling between 100 and 149 percent of the federal poverty level. We aim to help them all combat food insecurity.
Our Senior Food Box Program, supported by the Enterprise Rent-A-Car Foundation, serves nearly 500 adults, ages 60 and older, throughout the county. The boxes are filled with foods that specifically include key nutrients for seniors, such as fresh produce, whole grains and items with reduced sugar and salt. Senior Boxes are distributed every month to 25 sites, including community agencies, food pantries, senior centers and senior housing facilities. In early 2017, we were able to expand the scope of this program, growing from 480 senior boxes per month to 600 in early 2017—a 25 percent increase.
We rely on volunteers to help pack Senior Boxes, and even the little ones can get involved! To bring a smile to our seniors’ days, we offer the opportunity to kids of all ages to decorate food boxes. Boxes can be picked up by request from our facility and returned within two weeks. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in this activity.
We also work with Meals On Wheels (MOW) to serve seniors with mobility challenges, as well as people of any age who are homebound, handicapped or convalescing from an illness or operation. Since 2014, we’ve contracted with Meals On Wheels of Chester County to prepare, pack and store more than 14,000 meals in our commercial kitchen facility. Powered with plenty of volunteer energy, we create hot and frozen meals, using local produce whenever possible.
With the understanding that inclement weather conditions can take an even bigger toll on our senior population, we also offer Snow Boxes, which are an extension of our work with Meals On Wheels. Each Snow Box contains five shelf-stable meals, juices and snacks; these deliveries are made to all MOW recipients. That way, if bad weather prevents volunteers from delivering meals, homebound clients will have this food on hand until deliveries resume.
By focusing efforts and resources on Chester County’s senior population, we are able to serve more than 600 seniors each month. Please consider donating your time or resources to help us further increase the services we provide to our older neighbors.
Want to learn more? Sign up for our newsletter and stay connected. You can also donate food, funds and time to help us achieve our mission. Call (610)873-6000 to speak to someone about getting involved or requesting a tour. Thanks to you, we’re growing a healthier community.
The Chester County Food Bank is the central hunger relief organization serving more than 120 food cupboards, meal sites and social service organizations throughout Chester County. We take a steadfast approach to provide food and build support in the neediest communities, while raising awareness and engagement among our community.
Photos: Ed Williams