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Helping Older Missourians Facing Hunger

Food Plate

When a February storm dumped more than 10 inches of snow amid frigid temperatures in Oak Ridge, Donna and Theo La Ferriere found themselves stuck at their rental home on a 500-acre cattle ranch. 

Fortunately, they had stockpiled provisions from the federal Senior Food Box program for low-income people age 60 and older. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Supplemental Food Program provides about $50 worth of healthy shelf-stable food, like rice, beans and canned meat, to more than 24,000 state residents every month.

“We were living on those because of the storm,” Donna La Ferriere, 64, said. 

One in 8 older Missourians struggle with food insecurity—a problem exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis that has left many people isolated. 

That’s why AARP is partnering with Feeding Missouri, a statewide coalition of six food banks, to ensure that those in need know about the resources available to them. Beginning this month, AARP will reach out to its members through newsletters, mailings and social media about free services that local food banks offer, such as distributing Senior Food Boxes and helping people apply for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Older adults qualify for a wide array of services, but many don’t get them, said Scott Baker, state director of Feeding Missouri, which works with more than 1,500 community food programs. Fewer than 50 percent of older adults eligible for SNAP enroll because of barriers like stigma, Baker said. “Seniors are proud, and asking for help is a difficult decision for a lot of people.” 

Increasing need amid COVID

During the pandemic, food banks in various parts of Missouri have seen a spike in demand of up to 75 percent. But some older residents may resist getting help because they are worried about contracting the coronavirus. 

The Sikeston-based Southeast Missouri Food Bank, which normally serves about 63,000 clients each month, saw demand grow to more than 90,000, said Jennifer Wood, its research and development officer. Disseminating information about services is a challenge because the area is rural and people are spread out. Wood said the AARP partnership will help the region cope with COVID-19, poverty and hunger.

“Poverty and food insecurity is such a complex problem no one agency can address it on its own,” she said.

The partnership with Feeding Missouri will include information in the Senior Food Boxes about other AARP programs, such as HomeFit, which helps make residences safer; Friendly Voice, through which volunteers combat loneliness by making calls to isolated individuals; and the Caregiver Resource Center.

In addition to Senior Food Boxes, La Ferriere, a retired housecleaning business owner, and Theo, 71, a retired machinist, rely on the local food bank and their garden for their needs. They live on Social Security, but the increasing cost of health care is stretching their budget. Information about AARP programs  would be welcome in the area, La Ferriere said.

“The people that get the boxes, they’re old, they’re disabled, and they’re poor,” she said. “Some are alone. They’d grab at any kind of help they could get, especially now.”

Timothy Poor is a writer living in Clayton, MO.

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