They should not have to choose…..
We have all heard stories about “Gertie”, a determined, if somewhat eccentric, older citizen who picks up pop cans to pay for her prescription co-pays; or maybe in your town, it is “Sophie” a neighbor who someone mentioned has to choose between her medicine and eating 2 or 3 meals a day. It is tempting to believe that these are rare occasions and mostly anecdotal but the reality is, in the United States, in 2011, nearly 2.5 million households that included at least one senior citizen reported food insecurity. This seems outrageous in a country with so much wealth and especially in Iowa, where food is one of our greatest resources. So doesn’t it seem even harder to believe that only about one-third of eligible seniors in Iowa are receiving SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps)?
There are numerous reasons why they do not apply for the benefits, with pride being the leading cause. This is the generation that survived the Great Depression, always getting along on their own and paying their way. At the same time, many are living without adequate nutrition or sacrificing items they would enjoy if they could afford them. “Warren” was a Korean war veteran who signed up for SNAP benefits, asking me with tears in his eyes, whether he would be allowed to buy coffee. It was one of the luxuries he just felt he could not buy and still make ends meet. Another woman told me that if she received her SNAP benefits and energy assistance, that maybe she could sleep at night again. These are our parents and grandparents, the ones who gave their full measure to make certain the world was a better place for us to live in.
As Iowans dedicated to alleviating hunger in our state and nation, it is imperative that we do all we can to encourage and support our seniors to seek food assistance, both through government programs and charitable means in their communities. We can break down the barriers and stereotypes that have prevented them from asking for help and work together to ensure that no one need choose between food and medicine or food and their heat bill.
Written by Cindy Jones, SNAP Outreach Worker for the Iowa Food Bank Association