No one who has turned on a television, listened to the news on the radio or read a newspaper in the past week needs to be reminded that Tuesday of last week was Election Day. Before you stop reading, let us make absolutely clear that we have no intention of weighing in or commenting on the election itself. NFESH is not and has never been politically motivated or allied with any party or candidate. We are, and have always been, socially- and philanthropically-minded and motivated and focused singularly on the mission and vision that is enshrined in our name. That is, we are committed to ending the serious problem of hunger among our nation’s seniors.
So, why did we even mention the election? We do so, because as we listened to commentators from across the country and political spectrum, we kept hearing these two words repeated: “seniors” and “absentee.” While each was mentioned frequently, they were rarely stated together – at least in the context in which we so often think about them. And, we are convinced this deserves some attention. Last winter when the coronavirus was a relatively unfamiliar word, health experts began to warn seniors (there’s that first word) to quarantine to protect their health, as they were viewed as a particularly vulnerable population. Shortly thereafter, many of the opportunities for socialization on which they had relied, such as meal programs at senior centers, were necessarily foreclosed. Most of them and the state offices on aging under which they operated worked diligently and successfully to shift the way they provided meals from congregate to home-delivered. We applaud them for this and for the care and attention that they have been giving and continue to pay to our country’s elders.
In order to serve seniors, many of those organizations now knock on a door that sadly remains closed most of the rest of the time – and the hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of older citizens who live behind them remain largely invisible. Or, put another way, “seniors” are the “absentees” from the public eye and attention and the daily community involvement in which the rest of us have found a way to participate. We are concerned that, being an absentee in this non-political but fully American and public context, creates an entirely different kind of senior hunger than food alone can quench. The social hunger that is the unintended consequence of the kind of isolation necessary to protect physical health can have deleterious emotional and psychological impacts.
But here is the good news. That malady can be treated with ease. Each of us can make the decision not to be an absentee where our senior friends and neighbors are concerned. If we haven’t done so already or have been inconsistent about it, all we need to do is reach out – with a phone call, a knock on the door, a card in the mail. You are not absent from our concern or community, it will say. That is an important message every day, and particularly with another winter coming on. So many of you who read our blog are doing just that, and have been doing so for many, many months. And so, we’d like to thank you all and let you know that you are all heroes. America’s seniors have been well-served and never forgotten by you. We are grateful.