A report recently released by Vermont Senator Bernard Sanders, chairman of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, reports that 5 million seniors in this country face the threat of hunger, 3 million are at risk of going hungry and almost 1 million seniors do go hungry due to financial constraints. The report went on to say that seniors age 60 to 69 have the highest risk of senior hunger.
The report cites the benefits seniors receive through the Older Americans Act established in 1965 to provide needed social and nutrition services to older adults. The primary purpose of the act is to help keep seniors at home and in the community for as long as possible through services and supports. The largest part of the Act provides funding to support meals.
The progressive effects of malnutrition in elderly people include: loss of muscle mass, weakness and fatigue, impaired immune response, infection and, without nutritional intervention, death. Undernourished seniors are more likely to use health care services and enter nursing home care or other long-term care facilities.
“Many of our seniors live alone on a limited income and our meals are often what allow them to remain independent and living in their own homes,” said Loaves & Fishes Centers Executive Director Joan Smith. “The cost to feed a senior for one year is about $1,000 while the annual cost of nursing home care in Oregon is more than $50,000. Providing hot, nutritious meals to seniors makes sense on so many levels.”
Loaves & Fishes Centers addresses this very basic need by providing hot, daily meals at 35 senior dining locations throughout the metro area and through Meals-On-Wheels delivery to homebound seniors. Food and socialization keep seniors healthy and allow them the choice to remain independent in their own homes.
The senior population in Oregon and Washington is expected to double in the next 20 years. Loaves & Fishes Centers is experiencing the same trends as reported nationally with increased services in the 60-69 age group in its dining rooms and in Meals-On-Wheels delivery. Loaves & Fishes Centers provides about 3,000 home delivered meals daily in Multnomah, Washington and Clark counties. Without this support many of these seniors would be faced with much more costly care options. Seventy-five percent of the homebound seniors served by Loaves & Fishes Centers report that they are unable to provide basic daily dietary intake for themselves and about 30 percent have insufficient income to support nutritional needs.
Loaves & Fishes Centers relies on more than 9,500 volunteers annually to serve and deliver 1.2 million meals in Multnomah, Washington and Clark Counties. As important as the Older Americans Act is in supporting senior nutrition, the fact is that more than 60 percent of the organization’s operation budget comes from community donations. More than half of the senior nutrition programs nationally have established waiting lists for meals.
“For 17 percent of the seniors we serve, the meal we provide them is their only food of the day,” Joan said. “As the senior population continues to expand, the need for our services will only increase. “
About Loaves & Fishes Centers: Since 1970 Loaves & Fishes Centers has provided a nutritional and social lifeline for seniors through 35 meal sites in Multnomah, Washington and Clark counties and Meals-On-Wheels delivery to homebound seniors. With the help of more than 9,500 volunteers, the nonprofit, secular organization now serves 5,000 meals daily and 1.2 million meals each year. Visit: FeedSeniors.org.
 James P. Ziliak & Craig Gunderson, Senior Hunger in the United States: Differences Across States and Rural and Urban Areas, U. Ky. Ctr. For Poverty Research Special Report (Sept. 2009)