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AARP AARP States Advocacy

Kathleen Connell: The Hungry Among Us



Senior Digest, December 2012

The Hungry Among Us

By Kathleen S. Connell, AARP Rhode Island

The Rhode Island Community Food Bank has just released some disturbing news on hunger in our state. We all know that unemployment has put pressure on many Rhode Island families, but it is most discouraging to hear that we now rank highest in food insecurity among all New England states.

What is food insecurity? According to the Food Bank’s Status Report on Hunger 2012, to identify food insecurity, the USDA asks questions that connect access to food with the ability to afford it, as in this example: “In the last 12 months, were you ever hungry, but didn’t eat, because there wasn’t enough money for food?” The survey covers the precursors to hunger, including skipping meals or cutting the size of meals, to more extreme conditions.

Some 67,000 Rhode Island households now are considered food insecure. Shockingly, nearly a quarter (24 percent) of households in the state receive SNAP (Food Stamp) benefits.

We know that many of those suffering are elderly, and that is an issue AARP has been addressing the past few years with its Drive to End Hunger campaign. The focus has been on the NASCAR states and a remarkable fundraising effort lead by race driver and AARP spokesman Jeff Gordon.  As part of an effort to build on this success in other parts of the country, the AARP Foundation provided the Rhode Island State Office with a grant to explore elderly hunger in Providence’s West End Community. The result is Hungry in the West End, a Web-based report that will premiere on January 4.

Right now, you can see a video preview of the project. [/youtube]

John Martin from our staff (and a former journalist) has been working with former Providence Journal reporter Jody McPhillips for more than six months. They have focused on AARP’s targeted community – the largely Hispanic West End of Providence – where the unemployment rate among Hispanics is close to three times the state average. As you will see in some revealing video, John and Jodi have ridden with Meals on Wheels drivers, visited food pantries and senior centers, gone behind the scenes at the Food Bank and checked in with a wide variety of experts and community leaders.

It did not take long to learn that resources to relieve hunger are stretched thin. State funding for Meals on Wheels, for instance, is below what it was four years ago when the recession took hold. FEMA emergency funding for food pantries has been cut by 40 percent. And when it comes to seniors, the challenge gets more complicated. Many are isolated. Many are disabled. Isolated seniors may quality for SNAP, but do not register. For the disabled or chronically ill, it’s not easy – in many cases impossible – to take advantage of food pantries or get to senior centers serving discounted meals.

Experts say that many seniors you would not suspect are at risk are actually forgoing meals or otherwise cutting back on food intake in order to save money to cover the rising cost of utilities and prescription medicines. As a matter of pride, some simply refuse to ask for help they desperately need.

The report highlights the inspiring efforts of many who are delivering services and, in many cases, advocating for better outreach to those who are hardest to identify.

I hope you will take the time to visit the Web site. Also, John and Jody will be featured on the Statewide Interconnect cable program, Senior Journal, in a discussion with host Paul Roberti that is scheduled to be telecast six times in December. So, watch for that.

Hungry in the West End is a snapshot of what is going on all across the state. No town or city is spared and the elderly most at risk are too often out of sight and out of mind. This report will raise awareness of this serious problem. The bottom line is that everyone needs to work harder to reach out to those seniors most in need.

AARP is committed to making things better. You can learn more about senior hunger and what we are doing in other states by visiting


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