May is National Older Americans Month. Also, this year is the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Older Americans Act (OAA). All things considered, this is the perfect time to renew our commitment to meeting the needs of older residents.
Today, one in 12 Idaho seniors is living with hunger.
AARP estimates that 63 percent of our 213,000 residents who are 65 or older rely on Social Security for half of their family income. Unfortunately, more than one in three Idaho seniors depend on Social Security for their entire household income. It’s not surprising then that when you factor in out-of-pocket medical expenses, 15 percent of our older residents are living in poverty. With America getting older — by 2030 nearly one in five U.S residents will be 65 or older — we know the percentage of seniors in poverty will increase, especially in rural communities.
In response to this demographic shift, The Idaho Foodbank is increasing its effort to serve the needs of older Idahoans. Our Cooking Matters classes, while available to all ages, help seniors on a fixed income select and prepare foods that will ensure they get the nutrition they need. Special classes are also available for seniors with dietary requirements imposed by serious health conditions such as diabetes.
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Sometimes, just gaining access to nutritious food is a challenge. Last year we distributed food for more than 13 million nutritious meals statewide. This year, thanks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we will be providing additional food support to seniors in the form of supplemental commodities. Under this program, each month qualifying seniors will receive a box containing a variety of nutritious foods essential for a balanced diet. These boxes will be distributed by select community partners from our statewide network including some senior centers.
We recognize that ensuring the well-being of Idaho seniors requires much more than nutritious food. For that reason, we are engaged in collaborative partnerships with health care organizations focused on delivering much-needed medical and dental services to underserved populations — especially in rural Idaho. Offering “bundled services” makes the best use of the available resources. It also means that diabetes screening and education, for example, can be paired with a “food prescription” that supports the best health outcome for that individual. Effective use of resources means a better return for everyone.
Mahatma Gandhi is reported to have said, “The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members.” Older Idahoans deserve the opportunity to age in a manner that allows them to retain their health, independence and dignity for as long as possible; we owe them that much. At The Idaho Foodbank we are prepared to do our part. We invite you to join us.