The nationwide statistics on senior hunger are staggering: Nearly 9 million older adults face hunger every day. In the Latino community, 1 in 6 who are 50 and older suffer from food insecurity, meaning in simplest terms that they don’t know where their next meal is coming from, or if it is coming at all. And sadly, according to AARP Foundation research, that number among older Latinos has been dramatically on the rise, increasing by 38 percent just in the two years from 2007 to 2009.
The struggle with hunger particularly affects older adults who are caring for at least one grandchild, who live at or below the poverty line, and who may be widowed, divorced or separated. Again, this is especially the case for older Latinos.
AARP Foundation knows that ending hunger is about much more than just providing meals. It requires a deep understanding of the systemic issues that keep people from gaining access to adequate, healthy food. And we recognize as well that large-scale problems like older adult hunger really need large-scale solutions.
Since AARP Foundation began focusing on this critical issue, we have learned a tremendous amount. And as we move forward along the continuum from raising awareness to preventing food insecurity for older adults, one of the biggest learnings is that we have to do things – even talk about the issue – differently.
We recognize that disparities exist in the impact hunger has on those 50 and older in this country. For instance, Latinos aged 50-59 were twice as likely as Caucasians to be at risk of hunger over the seven-year period from 2001 to 2009.
To connect these complex variables, we intend to be instrumental in shaping the conversation. We intend to be mindful of the disparities in different populations and how those barriers can be broken down.
Working with the largest players in the food supply chain and hunger relief system is critical to achieving the greatest impact, which is why AARP Foundation is joining the global conversation about the complexities and challenges of the food supply chain. We will be using this collaborative approach to listen to and learn about cutting-edge, innovative solutions.
Meanwhile, we continue to meet immediate needs through local programs. For example, we actively support the Campus Kitchens Project, which operates more than 30 student-run kitchens in colleges and high schools across the country. Students prepare donated food, most of it from their own cafeterias and lunchrooms, and go out into the local community to deliver nutritious meals to those in need. It’s a grassroots approach that yields practical results but is also educating the next generation about the issue of senior hunger. We call that a win-win.
And this year, we are renewing a grant to the First Nations Development Institute. First Nations recognizes that access to healthy food is a challenge for many Native American communities, and they use the “teach someone to fish” approach to encourage improvements in nutrition in a sustainable way; our grant specifically helps them address hunger among senior Native Americans. Perhaps the best part of this program is that it doesn’t impose a one-size-fits-all model. Each of the four Native American communities we’re helping – in New Mexico, Arizona and Oklahoma – has come up with its own solutions, because, quite simply, they know best what will work.
We all face a national problem when it comes to senior hunger, but our solutions need to be both large scale and local. We at AARP Foundation are committed to making an impact on this issue. We are here for the long haul. Not alone, but in collaboration with others.
Lisa Marsh Ryerson is the President of the AARP Foundation.