Gazette opinion: Help seniors connect to better nutrition

2014-03-13T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: Help seniors connect to better nutrition The Billings Gazette
March 13, 2014 12:00 am

More than half of Yellowstone County Meals on Wheels participants report having just one hot meal per day, the meal volunteers deliver.

For 30 percent of them, that meal provides more than half of the food they eat all day. Forty percent of MOW folks say they eat less on days that no meal is delivered.

Those findings from the 2013 annual survey point up the vital nutrition that MOW provides five days a week for about 230 homebound seniors in Billings, Laurel and Worden. This year’s survey responses also indicate an alarming trend: The proportion of participants saying that MOW provides most of their food and that they eat less on weekends has increased significantly in each of the past two annual surveys.

Statistically, American seniors are less likely to live in poverty and food insecurity than are young families with children. However, an estimated 4.8 million Americans age 60 and over – 8.4 percent of that age group – did not have secure resources for food, according to Feeding America.

If Yellowstone County is average, and we don’t know that it is, around 2,450 folks over age 60 may be struggling to get enough to eat.

“We hear one of 12 seniors or one of eight are hungry, but they are such private people, we really don’t know,” said Bea Ann Melichar, executive director of the Adult Resource Alliance, which operates Meals on Wheels and senior meal sites in Billings, Laurel, Broadview, Worden, Custer and Shepherd. Between 150 and 200 people have lunch at these sites on weekdays. No senior is turned away because they can’t pay for the meal.

2,400 senior households

The Billings Food Bank distributes monthly food boxes to about 2,400 households with seniors in Yellowstone and 10 other counties, according to executive director Sheryle Shandy. Senior Nutrition Program participants receive a box of USDA commodity foods plus a box of other foods donated to the Food Bank. They also may select bread and fresh produce from the Food Bank’s stock.

Most participants pick up their groceries at the Food Bank or have someone to get them. However, executive director Sheryle Shandy said that if a senior citizen has no way to pick up the food, the Food Bank can deliver it in Billings. The Food Bank delivers senior food boxes to senior housing complexes in Billings, sites in Laurel, Lewistown and other communities.

SNAP reduction

Shandy said the Food Bank has seen an influx of older adults seeking food assistance since November when Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits were reduced for all Americans.

Family Service Inc. recently went to South Park Senior Center to offer free home delivery of food boxes to needy seniors who don’t have transportation. Thirty-seven households signed up for this new service, which is being provided by volunteers from Family Service Inc. and Billings Praise Church, according to Stacy Brown, executive director for Family Service Inc., which plans another sign up session at South Park within the month.

There is no shortage of food in Billings for those in need. However, needy people don’t automatically connect with the wonderful services of the Adult Resource Alliance, Billings Food Bank and Family Service Inc.

Older adults in particular may be reluctant to seek needed assistance because they are proud people or think that someone else needs the food more than they do. Each of these organizations providing senior nutrition has its own policies and procedures, but they share a mission to prevent hunger in our community.

Community members can help by supporting these organizations and by letting friends, family and neighbors know that food is available for those in need.

We commend the work of the Adult Resource Alliance, Billings Food Bank and Family Service Inc. and urge them to communicate with each other, to identify barriers to serving senior citizens and to overcome them together. There’s no good reason for elders to go hungry in Billings.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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