Older Americans Month is a time to focus on seniors by raising awareness about issues they face and recognizing their contributions.
When discussing hunger in New Jersey, it’s important to realize that the senior population deals with food insecurity. Those 65 and older face financial difficulties that often lead to tough choices, including the decision between food and medicine.
Of New Jersey’s 1.2 million seniors, nearly 8 percent live below the poverty level. And almost a quarter of the state’s older population has yet to retire because they’re struggling to make ends meet.
Some seniors who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) benefits told us they do not get enough to help them through the month. Many of them only qualify for the minimum monthly benefit ($16 a month) because they are close to the threshold income ($1,815 for one person per month).
That’s where the FoodBank comes in. Nineteen percent of the people we serve are 60 and older. They visit pantries and soup kitchens for food, and receive Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) boxes. The extra support we provide, with help from our partner charities, means a lot to them.
Marilyn, 79, says her Social Security does not provide her with enough supplemental income to get through the month. A regular at the Human Needs Food Pantry in Montclair for five years, she depends on the bags of groceries she receives.
“I couldn’t make it if I wasn’t able to come here,” she told us.
Bruce, 65, lives off his retirement benefits and what he picks up from the Interfaith Food Pantry in Morris Plains. He does not qualify for SNAP because he’s “over the food stamp threshold.”
“I needed to find a way to support myself, and my retirement benefits weren’t enough,” he said, “so I came here to seek assistance.”
Our volunteers help us pack CSFP boxes that go out to seniors. Every month, we distribute 3,200 boxes with much-needed supplemental food, including milk, chicken and cereal. Shirley, who’s in her mid-sixties, is grateful for the food she gets every month at the Edward F. Gray Apartments in Irvington.
“It’s better than being hungry,” she said. “It means that I have food for the month.”
While there are seniors in need, there are many in that same age group who dedicate time to help those struggling in their community. We have dozens of older volunteers who come to the FoodBank on a weekly basis to sort food in our shopping area, file papers in Agency Relations and work at our mobile pantries.
Paul, 68, organizes food in our agency shopping area twice a week, as he has for almost four years.
“In a small way, I help feed the needy,” he said. “I look forward to coming here.”
The same is true for Carol and Betsey, who have been volunteering at CFBNJ for 15 and 21 years, respectively. They now work together in our Agency Relations department, filing documents every Monday.
They are glad to dedicate time toward helping their hungry neighbors and they know volunteering makes a difference.
Marian is another one of our longtime volunteers, who works at our mobile pantries in Newark and Elizabeth on Mondays and Tuesdays.
“Volunteering helps me feel like I’m doing something constructive,” she told us. “I’m helping those in need. I’m not looking for anything back.”
You can help feed hungry seniors here in New Jersey when you make a donation.
To learn more about senior hunger, please click here.