Tuesday, July 31, 2012

End Senior Hunger in Georgia

By Deborah Britt and Jeffrey Smythe

For the second time, Georgia has been ranked among the top 10 states for senior hunger — a dubious distinction for a state that typically considers a top 10 ranking a good thing.

This disturbing news comes from “Senior Hunger in America 2010: An Annual Report,” a research study prepared by respected economists Dr. James P. Ziliak and Dr. Craig Gundersen and issued in May by The Meals On Wheels Research Foundation.

As of 2010 (the latest year for which data is available), more than 17 percent of Georgia’s seniors faced the threat of hunger — an increase from 14.8 percent in 2007 and well above the current national average of 14.85 percent. That put Georgia seventh among the Top 10.

Nationally, 8.3 million seniors were threatened by hunger, an increase of 78 percent from 2001 to 2010. Notably, six of the Top 10 are in the South: Mississippi (No. 1), Tennessee (No. 5), Alabama (No. 6), Georgia (No. 7), South Carolina (No. 8), and Florida (No. 9) — a shocking reality that the entire region needs to recognize.

Georgia’s ranking reflects the increased demand that we are experiencing for services such as Meals On Wheels.

In Atlanta, we’re seeing the largest waiting list we’ve ever experienced, while south of the city, Fayette County is home to one of the fastest-growing senior populations in Atlanta.

There’s no question that we can do better, and we must. Part of the challenge is a refusal to acknowledge that there is a problem.

As a society, we do not like to think about the fact that our parents and grandparents, the very people who raised us, might be going without a meal — much less many meals. But it happens every day, and if programs such as Meals On Wheels were not there to provide seniors with nutritious meals, many of them simply would not eat.

It’s often assumed that hunger is a problem limited to the poor — but that is not the case. This latest research shows that the majority of seniors facing the threat of hunger have incomes one to two times the poverty level. Too many of them are forced to make the choice between buying medications or a meal.

Our own senior nutrition programs are struggling to keep pace with demand, and costs are rising. Food prices have risen 6 percent nationally in the past year, and rising gas prices are an added burden — especially for Meals On Wheels programs that depend on volunteers to deliver the meals.

Given this stark reality, one might reasonably ask how a solution can be found.

Fortunately, the cure for senior hunger exists. In the richest nation on the planet we have an abundance of food. We have an abundance of ingenuity, generosity and compassion. We also have an existing infrastructure for delivering that food.

What we need now is to recognize that the problem is growing and take action.

Georgia owes it to its senior citizens to end senior hunger for good.

Deborah Britt is president and CEO for Fayette Senior Services. Jeffrey Smythe is executive director for Meals On Wheels Atlanta.
This editorial originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on July 27, 2012.

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