By Shradha Suresh
In addition to families, single parents and children, many of the elderly in our communities are faced with food insecurity. According to Feeding America, about 8% of households (2.9 million seniors who are above the age of 65) experienced food insecurity in 2015. The Mercer Street Friends Food Bank’s website states that oftentimes the elderly have to chose between food and medicine. Food insecurity has a dangerous impact at any age, but it can be particularly problematic for the health of the elderly.
There are a number of problems that contribute to the rising number of elderly faced with food insecurity and the gravity of the issue. The website of Food Insecurity and Aging Adults states that “the elderly feel that food stamps are reserved for the young and would be judged if they used them. They also lack transportation and are unable to prepare food.”
The Mercer County Nutrition Project for the Elderly is combating the problem on two fronts, providing access to satiating, nutritional meals and an opportunity for these individuals to engage with their communities.
“This program is quite different from other programs because they stress on the importance of socialization; it is a program that is catered for the elderly to get a warm meal,” says Jenifer Williams, the program’s Executive Director.
The program is also unique in that it provides these same services to those who are homebound and immobile, as well. The program, which is both locally and federally funded, runs from Monday to Friday. The only requirement is that the client or his/her spouse must be over the age of 60.
Kamille Munger, a client of the program, said that she started visiting the program with her husband years ago. Today, the same location is where she seeks closure for her husbands and daughter’s deaths through an extensive network of friends that she first met there. In this way, the organization has helped her work through a challenging period of grief and depression.
Another organization that delivers similar resources and support to individuals who are homebound is Meals on Wheels of Mercer County. With the help of a large base of committed volunteers, the organization delivers meals to these individuals.
Patrons may receive one hot meal and one cold meal per day on Mondays through Fridays. There are also a small number of weekend meals available to weekday meal recipients. In addition to these services, the program offers nutrition education, shelfstable groceries once a month, ‘Blizzard Bags” during inclement weather, and pet food for those who need them.
Although the program only requires that patrons be over the age of 21, Sasa Montano, the Executive Director of Meals on Wheels of Mercer County, said that the program finds that it is serving an increasing number of elderly residents who are immobile.
The program allows patrons to can choose the day, meals and length of the services that they need. A nutritionist determines all the ingredients and meals provided on a daily basis. Additionally, the program uses federal poverty guidelines to determine if patrons require a subsidy.
According to Joyce Stilwells, the Director of the Lawrence Township Meals on Wheels Program, “the delivery system is like a check with the elderly where they still have their independence and dignity but through which they can connect to people.”
Moreover, they provide these individuals with the independence and nutrition that they need. These two programs serve as an important resource to an often-overlooked population in the community.
Mercer County Nutrition Project for the Elderly – (609) 989-6650
Meals on Wheels of Mercer County – (609) 695-3483