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Senior Hunger in Arkansas Worst in U.S.

Arkansas has the highest rate of senior hunger in the country, according to the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. (Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance)
Arkansas has the highest rate of senior hunger in the country, according to the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. (Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance)
December 10, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - More than 240,000 Arkansans over age 60 are considered food insecure. That means 40 percent of the state's senior population isn't always sure there'll be enough money to meet their basic needs and buy groceries.

Despite programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance or "SNAP," Tomiko Townley, manager with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, says personal pride often gets in the way of an older person getting the food assistance they need.

"There is a lot of stigma associated with accessing safety nets and help with food access, and just overall social support, for seniors," says Townley.

The National Foundation to End Senior Hunger says Arkansas has the highest rate of senior food insecurity in the country, and the numbers are highest overall in rural areas of southern states.

Townley says there is no single profile of a senior who is food insecure. She says rural seniors pride themselves in living off the land and some don't want to admit they need help.

"There is almost a fear of being weak by saying, 'Yes, I am going hungry,' or 'Yes, I am food insecure' - especially with our seniors who like to be independent," says Townley.

Arkansas previously had the nation's highest childhood hunger rate, and Townley says resources that were used to address that problem were therefore not available to help older people.

She suggests individuals find ways to help those who may be in need in their neighborhood or community, but she acknowledges it's often difficult to know who's at risk.

"There's a lot of older adults that are able to mask their struggle with food access, and the last thing they want somebody to identify about them is that they 'look like they might need some help,'" she says.

Townley notes many seniors who thought they had enough resources for retirement didn't recover sufficiently from the economic downturn. Others who thought they had planned well have outlived their resources. Either way, she says, they face difficult choices.

"Some of the struggles we see are that a lot of people are having to decide if they can pay for their food or if they can pay for their medicine," says Townley.

Townley says even offering to give an older neighbor a ride to the grocery store could be the difference between that person getting the nutrition they need and going without.

Jeff Stein, Public News Service - AR