In 2008, the U.S. Census Bureau projected that the 60+ population will double between 2010 and 2050, from 57 million now to 112 million. Based upon population growth, that means the number of U.S. seniors facing hunger could exceed 17.3 million by 2050 if funding isn’t increased.

SUFFERING IN SILENCE: A volunteer delivers a warm meal to a veteran.

Senior hunger is a “silent” epidemic, says Meals On Wheels Association of America President and CEO, Ellie Hollander. Many seniors rely on monthly Social Security payments of approximately $1,200 to cover expenses and must sometimes decide between paying for utilities, medicine or food. The recessionary economy has made life tougher, with almost half of our seniors now living at or below 200 percent of the poverty line — or less than $23,000 a year. Even seniors who have money for food may be homebound due to functional limitations or health problems and unable to shop for or prepare their own meals.

Hunger directly contributes to more serious chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, dehydration and heart disease.  These are often the drivers behind landing in the hospital or nursing home, which in turn, significantly increase healthcare costs.  

Meeting seniors where they are

Seniors who receive meals can stay in their homes longer and retain independence, says Hollander. For them it’s more than a nourishing meal.  It’s also a friendly visit, a safety check—and most of all, hope. “The volunteer delivering the meal may be the only person the senior sees in a day,” she says.

A HELPING HAND:  A volunteer delivers Meals on Wheels to a woman in Prince William County, VA.

The need for these services—and for funding—is great. “Our programs took a $51 million budgetary ‘hit’ in 2013 due to federal government sequestration, although each state is affected differently,” Hollander says. “Make sure to advocate for senior meal services with your elected officials.”

Most senior meal programs have the infrastructure to deliver meals but are lacking adequate financial resources to fill the gap.  Donations are most welcome, she says, and they all need volunteers. “Deliver a meal.  You’ll be transformed by the experience.”

Each of us knows a senior —although it may not be immediately obvious — who would benefit from help with their meals, Hollander says. “Let’s all work together to end senior hunger."