Mobile pantry brings fresh produce to seniors

Residents at the Indian Hills Senior Community in Euclid line up for produce brought in by the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.

Residents of one of the largest senior living complexes in the country now have free, fresh produce delivered to them monthly in a new push at curbing hunger and malnutrition among the elderly.

The Greater Cleveland Food Bank has been sending a truck loaded with garden crops and some stables such as rice and cereal to the Indian Hills Senior Community in Euclid since June.

Food Bank President and CEO Kristin Warzocha said the mobile pantry is in response to the mounting number of calls to the agency from seniors in desperate need of food.

The food bank started to dig into what was happening and learned there are waiting lists as long as six months for home-delivered meals through agencies such as the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging.

At the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging, the number of meals served to seniors throughout 2015 was down by more 602,000 from 2002. One reason: The Older Americans Act, which funds home-delivered meals, has not kept up with the growing number of senior citizens in Ohio and elsewhere, what some call the “silver tsunami.”

Meanwhile, funding of senior community services by the Ohio Department on Aging has fallen in the last 15 years from $16 million to $7.3 million, a 54 percent drop-off.

Researchers estimate the number of food insecure seniors will increase by 50 percent by 2025, when the youngest of the Baby Boomers reaches 60.

On a crisp morning earlier this month at the 1,500-unit Indian Hills, the largest senior complex between New York and California, the line of senior citizens seeking produce stretched for more than two hours.

“A lot of people run short of food,” said Christine Jones, 65, a 14-year resident of the community off East 191st Street. “It helps out a lot.”

“It’s always a good idea when you feed people,” said Vernon Hall, 75, who was standing in line with a red polka-dotted bag, ready to select from tables stocked with apples, pears, sweet potatoes, parsnips, pinto beans, boxed milk and other food.

The Indian Hills distribution is the second Tuesday of every month. Volunteers from the non-denominational CityReach Church-Cleveland were on hand in October to help.

“Some seniors are all by themselves,” Pastor Stan Sifers said. “They’re living on such a fixed income. They just don’t have enough to live on.”

Ohio ranks 10th nationwide and 1st in the Midwest for residents 60 and older who are “food insecure,” meaning they don’t have reliable access to enough nutritious food. That finding is in a recent report from the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger that also revealed that 15.8 percent of senior Americans, or 10.2 million people age 60 or older, face the threat of hunger.

“We’re an aging state, so this gives us serious concerns,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, who heads the Ohio Association of Food Banks.

The item in household budgets most likely to get trimmed is food, she said. Sometimes seniors choose to go hungry in order to pay for medicine or keep the lights on.

“It is a dangerous tradeoff. It has major implications,” Hamler-Fugitt said. “When seniors can’t meet their food needs, they are the ones that are the most likely to be on the fast track to a nursing home.”

Alison Grant

I am a 24-year resident of Northeast Ohio who thinks our region is something of a hidden gem.

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Volume 7, Issue 11, Posted 6:53 PM, 11.07.2016