Many older Americans face an issue that’s often kept behind closed doors: hunger.
A new report called The State of Senior Hunger in America shows that eight percent of Kentucky residents age 60 and older are food insecure. Community organizations in Russellville and Bardstown are among many groups helping older adults get enough healthy food.
At the Russellville Senior Center director Christie Lashley called folks to head to the serving table to pick up a tray with a hot lunch.
“All righty, we have Mr. Martin and we have Miss Barbara, Miss Nancy, go get your food….,” said Lashley.
Servers spooned out a plate of barbequed chicken, green beans and mashed potatoes to Tom Martin.
“It’s a good place to come,” said Martin, who comes to this this senior center in Logan County for lunch about four times a week.
Other seniors in Logan County who are homebound get a hot meal delivered.
Before she became director of the senior center, Lashley delivered meals to the homebound elderly. She said many suffer from severe medical problems and isolation.
"People don’t realize and understand the situations some of the elderly people are in. Because it’s really sad. I’ve seen some sad, sad situations.”
In a nearby region, Green River Area Development District Associate Director for Aging and Social Services Jennifer Williams said many seniors who need home delivered meals are not getting them.
“Our waiting list as of January was around 344 people waiting for meals,” said Williams. “We’re hovering right around that 340 mark.”
The Green River Area Development District (GRADD) covers Daviess, Hancock, Henderson, McLean, Ohio, Union and Webster counties.
Williams said the waiting list is mainly due to a lack of federal and state funding.
“Our funding has stayed level or decreased every year for the last 10 years or more, so we encourage people to talk to their legislators and let them know how desperately we need money in these programs,” said Williams.
The State of Senior Hunger in America found that 82,000 senior citizens in Kentucky are food insecure.
Fortunately, many of them are able to get assistance from local food pantries.
At the Bread for Life Community Food Pantry in Bardstown, 59-year-old Connie Howard recently picked out fresh tomatoes and red peppers.
“This is wonderful,” said Howard. “I’m very grateful. Very grateful.”
Howard doesn’t come here often, but there’s a reason she’s at the food pantry on this day.
“Well, I’ve run out of certain foods, and I’m on a fixed income, and I just recently had a heart attack and I had to pay for my medication this month,” she said.
Another client at this food pantry is Mildred Beavers, 84. A volunteer helped her pick out fresh produce.
“How ‘bout a head of cabbage?” asked the volunteer.
“Yes, I’ll take a head of cabbage,” said Beavers. She had a recipe in mind for that cabbage.
“I bought some coleslaw yesterday and it wasn’t fit to eat,” said Beavers. “I don’t like bought coleslaw.”
Beavers was at the food pantry with her 85-year-old husband Hobart.
“He had a stroke last year and he still can’t talk,” she said. “We’ve been to rehab this morning.”
Hobart Beavers drove a school bus for nearly 40 years and Mildred worked in school lunchrooms. She said the reason they’re at the food pantry is because they’re taking care of school-age children.
“Well, I got great grandkids and you know, it takes a lot of food for them,” she said. “I’ve got two at my house. They’ve been there a long time. Mama’s in Liberty, Kentucky in the pen. Drugs.”
Drug addiction is a major reason that elderly relatives in Kentucky, like Mildred and Hobart Beavers, end up raising children.
The State of Senior Hunger report found those who have grandchildren in the house experience food insecurity at twice the rate of those who don’t live in a multigenerational home with children. That’s because elders often choose to make sure the children are fed first.
Whether it’s the necessity to feed children, a lack of mobility, or having to pay for life-saving medications, thousands of Kentucky’s elderly residents end up being food insecure.
They’re among five million senior citizens across the nation who don’t have enough food.