Once again we are pleased to feature the work of another of our “partners” — that is, another organization that shares our commitment and dedication to addressing senior hunger in an effort to improve the lives of vulnerable seniors. Today’s post is authored by Radha Muthiah.
Radha Muthiah is the President and CEO of the Capital Area Food Bank, the leading hunger relief organization serving the Washington metropolitan area. The food bank is helping people thrive today and build brighter futures tomorrow by providing over 30 million meals to half a million people through a network of 450+ nonprofit partners each year.
Americans are living longer than ever before, and in larger numbers: according to the National Institute on Aging, there are approximately 35 million Americans age 65 or older today, and this number is expected to double in the next 25 years. Longer life spans are good news. But among the growing senior population there are also millions of individuals who struggle with hunger and food insecurity, meaning there’s a growing number of people for whom staying healthy and strong in the later stages of life is uniquely challenging.
In the Washington area, this issue is particularly acute, with DC outpacing national senior hunger trends. While about 8% of seniors are food insecure nationally, 11% of seniors in DC aren’t always sure where their next meal will come from. And in the growing number of “grandfamily” households, where a senior is the primary caregiver for children in the household, incidence of hunger is even higher.
The scope of the challenge demands new thinking about how best to serve seniors. This means considering ways to not only to provide enough food, but also how to provide food that is responsive to their unique nutritional needs and physical abilities. As part of our new strategic direction, the Capital Area Food Bank is piloting several initiatives targeting the thousands of seniors we serve.
Challenges often faced by seniors, for instance, include mobility and stamina. Shopping for groceries, getting them home, and standing for a long period of time to prepare that food can prove taxing to those with physical limitations. The availability of affordable fresh food close by is also a barrier to eating well for many seniors in our region. That’s why we’ve begun testing the delivery of semi-prepared “meal kits” to the senior programs we work with, which include the components for fresh, easy to prepare meals like stir fry. We’ve also begun to explore no-preparation (both frozen and refrigerated) options for those with even more limited capacity to cook. Early feedback on the kits has been positive, and as we learn more about what works, we will scale the best models across more of our senior programs.
In addition to looking at the type of food we deliver, we’re also using data to better target where we focus our work, and with what organizations we partner to do it. For instance, almost of 20% of seniors who rent an apartment experience hunger, so we are continuing to focus on building programmatic partnerships with senior communities in apartment buildings. We are also learning more about the factors that impact the health outcomes of seniors who have experienced a stroke, including follow up visits to a health care provider, so we’ve begun work towards a partnership with a local hospital that will support food insecure seniors who have recently experienced a stroke through a “prescription” for home delivery of healthy groceries when they attend follow up visits.
Food is critical to our health and well-being, a fact that is as true in later life as it is in our earliest days. And as many of us begin to collectively spend more time in “later life” than we have at any time in history, the imperative to ensure that our nation’s seniors can continue to live well and age with dignity has never been stronger. Through the power of partnership and new ideas, we can and must leverage the power of food to create brighter futures – at any age.