Food For Seniors

Texas has one of the highest rates of hunger in the nation. And the elderly population is expecially vulnerable to hunger and lack of nutrition. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, for the first time ever, Houston will receive federal food supplements to help feed the region's elderly.

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Last year, the Houston Food Bank fed meals to 500,000 people. The vast majority of those meals went to working or retired households and the number of seniors receiving meals is on the rise. Houston Food Bank President Brian Green says Houston seniors at the poverty level don't have sufficient income to meet their basic needs.

"Texas has one of the higher rates for poverty for senior citizens. It's over 12 percent of senior citizens live below the poverty level in Texas. And in Harris County alone, that works out to well over 30,000 seniors are below the poverty level."

Through a supplemental food program, the USDA provides boxes of food containing canned goods, peanut butter, rice, cereal and cheese. Green says Houston has tried to participate in this program for years and was always denied. But after taking in thousands of hurricane evacuees last year, the Food Bank was able to earn the grant.

"That's how we picked up the 8,500-person caseload which we'll begin to distribute in July, is because we were able to show the increased need. And say well this is something that should have been happening in Houston/Harris County all along. When you look at the size of our population, and it is a program for senior citizens that exists in so many places around the country and the fourth largest city in the country doesn't even have it."

Many of the seniors in need of food assistance are living on $10,000 a year or less. Jan Edwards is director of case management at Sheltering Arms, a social services organization for the elderly. She says there are any number of reasons why a senior citizen would go hungry.

"We see folks who have been in the hospital, for example, for a significant period of time and while they were in the hospital whatever was in the refrigerator has spoiled. So a lot of times whenever they come out of the hospital, they may have multiple new prescriptions to fill so that's a considerable expense and then they've also incurred the loss of whatever food they had on hand."

The Houston Food Bank is taking applications for the food boxes and will begin distribution in July. The recipients will receive one box of food per month for six months. Green says after all the boxes are distributed, they expect to still have a waiting list of thousands of seniors. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

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