This forum on older adult hunger provided an opportunity for folks in and around Coos and Curry County to gather and discuss solutions for hunger. The forum took place in Coos Bay, Oregon at Southwestern Oregon Community College and focused on 50+ hunger in Oregon.
To kick off the forum, Representative Caddy McKeown welcomed and thanked participants for being part of this important event. She emphasized how important the issue is for vulnerable older adults who may be at risk of hunger.
The opening remarks were succeeded by a polling activity facilitated by AARP’s Community Engagement Director, Bandana Shrestha. This quickly proved to be a fun and interactive activity. Attendees were surprised, saddened, and bluntly awakened on the subject of older adult hunger and discrimination. Many participants gasped at the statistic that Oregon is in the top five hungriest states for those aged 50-59.
Following the polling activity, Nancy Weed of Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon discussed available resources for older adults in Oregon, with a particular focus on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Ms. Weed provided the audience with surprising and unknown facts related to SNAP, including an upcoming cut of benefits for all SNAP households that will take place on November 1st. Ms. Weed also mentioned that only 1 in 3 eligible Oregonians aged 60+ are receiving the SNAP benefits they are entitled to.
Fittingly, the next guest speaker, Stephanie Pollizi, enlightened everyone on ways to eat healthy on a budget. According to Ms. Pollizi, there are three components that must be met in order to successfully eat on a healthy budget: (1) Make Healthy Food Choices, (2) Prepare a Budget, and (3) Adopt Savvy Shopping Strategies. Ms. Pollizi advocated for three healthy food choices: legumes, dark greens and berries, all of which provide adequate nutrients for a healthy diet.
The final Keynote speaker, Christine Coles of RSVP, provided insight on older adult hunger that currently exists in Coos and Curry County. Numbers and statistics that were seen and heard by those in the audience were upsetting. It was clear that solutions need to be discussed, barriers need to be addressed and ideas need to be put into play. This topic turned out to be a great predecessor to the next part of the forum.
With the goal of identifying the next steps and priorities for those in Coos and Curry Counties alike, the second half of the forum was dedicated to an open discussion among participants. Existing opportunities for advocacy, the availability of food and nutrition resources, and gaps in Coos and Curry Counties related to addressing the issue of 50+ hunger were heavily discussed.
While many existing efforts and resources to address 50+ hunger were identified, so were many gaps. Based on discussions, the participants identified the following priorities:
- Engage broader stakeholders– including senior centers and businesses
- Develop a specific factsheet about older adult hunger in Coos and Curry Counties to share with policy makers
- Reach the media and raise awareness about existing nutritional resources– including SNAP
- Strengthen and develop volunteer programs to help close gaps
- Hold continuous meetings as a group to focus on 50+ hunger in the South Coast region of Oregon
As advocates, professionals, and people of the community passionately discussed existing resources, barriers, and likely solutions for hunger, it was apparent that everyone at this forum is striving for one outcome: an Oregon where everyone is healthy and thriving with access to affordable and nutritious food.