Recently, a small van filled with senior citizens from High Point were headed on a Senior Resources of Guilford County outing to a candy store. Ellen Whitlock, of Senior Resources, learned that one gentleman–who had insisted on coming on the trip–attended but never went into the store. “It turns out that he just wanted to drive somewhere to see something new. He just wanted to ride in the van,” she says.
Anecdotally, we know that isolation and lack of access to transportation are large barriers to food access for seniors in our area. We also know that our local partners across Northwest North Carolina are seeing an increasing number of senior citizens in need of food assistance.
How can we get seniors to food or — alternatively– food to seniors? This is just one of the many questions that Second Harvest’s Peggy Robinson and her assembled team of pantry partners in High Point, NC are grappling with this winter.
What else do we need to know about this population? How can we best be prepared for aging “baby boomers” who are living on fixed incomes and may need help accessing food? What sorts of food do seniors want and need? What can we do to serve our elders best?
According to the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (NFESH), approximately 10.2 million adults over the age of 60 are facing the threat of hunger, a 65% increase since 2007. Equipped with this knowledge and supported with funding from the High Point Community Foundation, Robinson has helped initiate a project called Feeding Senior Health and is digging deep into the issues of senior hunger; matching statistics with anecdotal evidence and asking seniors what we can do to help.
“We expect that this work will lead us to be able to improve our service strategies, will impact the types of food we distribute, and will broaden our collaborative efforts to best care for this vulnerable population,” says Peggy Robinson, Second Harvest’s Regional Outreach Manager, whose service area includes Guilford County.
We know that, if we wish to end hunger in Northwest North Carolina, we must be going deep into communities to find out what barriers exist and how the hardships of poverty manifest. Like Robinson and her team in High Point, Second Harvest is active throughout our 18 county service area doing this on-the-ground discovery work: deep dives into local communities to ask hard questions, listen carefully and develop solutions that can be replicated elsewhere.
Nearly 90 miles away in Wilkes County, we know that 40% of the families who are turning to our partner network for food assistance have a household member in poor health and that 90% of those households also report having unpaid medical bills. “This can’t help but impact the amount of food and the quality of food these families can access and, in fact, 79% tell us they have had to choose between paying for food or for medical care,” says Jan Jones, Second Harvest’s Regional Outreach Manager who serves our Wilkes County partner network.
Thanks to support from The Health Foundation, Inc, this spring, Second Harvest will be convening focus groups of households receiving food assistance from Samaritan Kitchen of Wilkes and Wilkes Ministry of HOPE, two of our strong partners serving the county. These groups will focus on barriers to accessing healthier foods. “We want to deepen our understanding of the factors associated with low access to healthy foods and explore collaborative solutions that will be of help in Wilkes,” explains Jones. “What we learn here can help guide our work in other communities.”
Back in Forsyth County, closer to our central offices in Winston-Salem, Regional Outreach Manager Tracey Doss has just wrapped up an intensive 8-month data collection project, supported with funding from Second Harvest’s parent organization, Feeding America. This project involved training 44 of our Forsyth on-the-ground partner agencies to use a data collection system that will provide us with detailed information about what is happening in the lives of folks living in Forsyth County and why they need help accessing food. The data will help us improve our responses to food insecurity on a local level. The project will also inform expanding cross-sector collaborative work to address the many barriers families may be facing, including unemployment and low wages, housing and utility costs, or trouble accessing healthcare. Doss is now working with our partners in Alleghany County and over the next two years will expand this vital program to our entire 18-county service region.
“We need to use this data in combination with our day to day work meeting with our partners, speaking with families in need, and learning more about the communities we serve,” explains Doss. “This is how we will move beyond simply distributing food and towards ending hunger and poverty.”