Thousands of U.S. senior citizens are hungry or food insecure every day and are eligible for government support to ensure healthy meals. But alarming numbers of seniors are either unaware of, or ignore, governmental support to alleviate their hunger. To assure that qualified seniors get their benefits, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and Jewish Family Service of the Lehigh Valley are joining forces to raise awareness that the food benefits are available and to give assistance to those in need.
There are a number of reasons seniors are not taking advantage of this assistance. “Too often, it’s a reluctance to accept government assistance,” said Abby J. Leibman, president and CEO of MAZON, “and while understandable, it’s important to remember that they’ve supported these programs and benefits as taxpayers for many years and they are there to help them now. Others are simply unaware the benefits are there for them. The goal of this outreach is to dramatically reduce the alarming statistics.”
According to Leibman, one in six seniors lives in poverty and 65 percent of seniors who are eligible for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) funds do not use them.
This issue has reached a critical point as 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day and 56 percent of U.S. retirees have outstanding debt. One in three seniors is food insecure and/or disabled. Thirty percent must choose between food and medicine.
“The belief that the community has an obligation to sustain its most vulnerable is deeply embedded in Jewish tradition,” Leibman said. “It is unacceptable that a rising number of our nation’s seniors struggle to put meals on the table when we have programs like SNAP that could help them buy nutritious food.”
Joining MAZON is Jewish Family Service of the Lehigh Valley, one of 13 JFS agencies in seven states that are taking part in MAZON’s Senior Hunger Initiative. “Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation in senior population. We are seeing an increase of up to 50 percent in the number of seniors who are coming to our food pantry,” said Debbie Zoller, executive director of Jewish Family Service of the Lehigh Valley. “Based on that number, we expect there is a very large senior population here in the Lehigh Valley that is suffering in silence. We want to help them access their benefits so they get the nutrition they need. We are hoping that not only seniors, but those who care for them hear this message and help get their family member or friend to our offices to sign up.”
JFS works to ensure that no one in the community suffers from hunger, isolation or lack of care and support. Overall, the JFS Food Pantry program grew by 16 percent, providing over 16,000 meals in 2014.