We often hear America referred to as the “Land of Plenty,” and yet thousands of our senior citizens are going to bed hungry tonight. According to the US Census Bureau, by 2030 seniors will outnumber children for the first time in our country’s history. One in every five residents will be of retirement age (60 years and older). The systems we currently have in place to combat food insecurity among seniors are already strained.
The National Foundation to End Senior Hunger and Feeding America found in 2018 that approximately 5.3 million seniors (7.3% of the senior population) are suffering from food insecurity. Although this number is lower than in the previous five years (in 2015, the number was 9.8 million or 14.7%), it is projected that by 2025 the number of food-insecure seniors will increase by 50%.
Arkansas has the 12th highest rate of food insecurity among seniors in the country with a statewide food insecurity rate of 15.7%. The Arkansas Association of Area Agencies on Aging is working to lower that percentage even further, by making people aware of the available nutrition resources for seniors in Arkansas. Many of our clients are surprised to learn that there is help available to them at all. But in fact, there are several free resources available to seniors who are struggling with food insecurity.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
One of the top senior nutrition resources nationwide is the SNAP program. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was developed to help low-income individuals get the food they need to remain healthy. Seniors or their family members/caregiver can use BenefitsCheckUp (the National Council on Aging’s benefits screening tool) to see if they are eligible for SNAP.
In Arkansas, the Department of Human Services (DHS) is responsible for administering SNAP. You can also apply for the program through Access Arkansas.
SNAP was previously referred to as the “Food Stamp Program” and it works by providing food assistance to eligible participants by covering a portion of the household’s food budget. After your application is accepted, you can access your benefits through an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. These benefits can be used to purchase eligible food items as well as seeds and plants that produce edible food. EBT cards can be used at grocery stores, gas stations, and other specified retailers such as farmers’ markets.
SNAP also offers nutrition education programs for the people who use it. This is meant to encourage healthy, nutritious eating that furthers your well-being while preventing malnourishment. Even if you are consuming enough calories per day, you can become malnourished if you are not eating the right variety of grains, protein, fruits, and vegetables. Many people who are overweight are also malnourished.
If you have questions about how SNAP works, whether or not you’re eligible, or how to sign up for SNAP, your local Area Agency on Aging will provide you with the help you need and walk you through the application process step by step.
Meals on Wheels
Meals on Wheels is a national organization that has partners and providers in almost every community in America. Meals on Wheels provides nutritious, balanced meals for homebound senior citizens. They started as a small service group in 1954 in Philadelphia, and now they serve nearly 2.4 million American senior citizens annually.
The Older Americans Act (OOA) Nutrition Program is currently the only federally supported program designed to meet the social and nutritional needs of senior citizens. The OOA Nutrition program addresses food insecurity and hunger among senior citizens by funding programs like Meals on Wheels that deliver nutritionally balanced meals straight to their front doors. For the millions of seniors who are homebound due to injury, illness, or lack of access to transportation, this service is a literal life-saver.
63% of OOA Nutrition Program participants say that the provided meals account for at least half of their daily food intake. 91% said that the program helps them remain independent and living in their own home.
In Arkansas, there are several programs that work with the OOA Nurtirion Program and Meals on Wheels, including CareLink which serves the Little Rock, Maumelle, and North Little Rock area. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging and they will let you know what home delivery programs are available in your area. You never have to pay for these services (although if you are able, we do ask that you donate so we can continue to serve our communities).
There are senior centers in pretty much every community in Arkansas. These centers are places for seniors to gather, socialize, exercise, take classes, and generally improve their lives. If you are not homebound, we do also offer food assistance in the form of free lunches. When you are at the senior center, we offer free, nutritionally balanced hot meals for our guests.
Many of our senior centers offer transportation to and from the senior center if you do not have options for transportation. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to find out where the nearest senior center is located, and what services they offer for their guests.
The Arkansas Food Bank
The Arkansas Food Bank also offers relief for hungry seniors through direct service as well as partner agencies and community partnerships. They do this in a variety of ways, including:
- Supplying local food pantries, soup kitchens, and senior centers
- Work closely with CareLink to distribute senior-friendly food boxes as well as sending out their own Foodbank volunteers
- Offer senior-specific grants to provide agencies with additional resources
- Conduct workshops on how to implement senior programming
- Assist seniors with SNAP applications and approvals
You can contact the Arkansas Food Bank for more information on how they can help or for assistance applying for SNAP and CareLink programs.
Contact Your Local Area Agency on Aging
You could be eligible for any or all of these senior nutrition resources. Instead of contacting them all, you can always reach out to your local Area Agency on Aging and we will provide you with a Care Coordinator. This coordinator can present you with the full range of options and benefits for which you may qualify, walk you through the application process, and help you manage any follow-ups or appeals that may result.
Contact us today and we will direct you to the appropriate information assistance or care coordinator in your area. These services are completely free of charge. We are a non-profit organization that is concerned only with ensuring that you receive the care that you need to live an independent and healthy life.