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Senior Hunger Still Plagues Idaho, But One Community is Fighting Back

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Thursday, August 17, 2017   

MARSING, Idaho -- About one-in-ten seniors in Idaho isn't sure where they will find their next meal, according to a new report.

The National Foundation to End Senior Hunger found that senior hunger levels went down only slightly between 2014 and 2015 in Idaho, declining by a little more than 1/2 percentage point.

Kathy Gardner, director of the Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force, said any percentage of hungry seniors above zero is too high. She said the data reveals it's actually seniors on the younger side who suffer most.

"They're ages 60 - 69, and that surprises many,” Gardner said. "Good news: there are pockets of innovation in Idaho and in rural Idaho. So, we do have models of success right here in Idaho that we can look to to make a difference."

The report said nationwide, hunger rates for people ages 60 to 64 are 50 percent higher than for people over the age of 80. Gardner said that's a disturbing trend as Baby Boomers get older in large numbers.

But, she said, Idahoans are fighting back. The Sandbar Restaurant served Marsing, a town of 7,000 in rural Owyhee County, for 40 years before closing its doors in 2015. Now it's been revived as the nonprofit Sandbar - Cafe with a Cause to help serve the area's senior population.

Pete Smit is president of the board at Senior Citizens Inc., which runs the nonprofit restaurant. He said the cafe is open to people of all ages, and it's been a vital alternative to a senior center.

"We felt leaving the name as the Sandbar was important to entice everyone to come and join us at the Sandbar without any segregating off the seniors alone,” Smit said.

Those 60 and older can choose whether or not to pay for their meals. All the money earned goes back to the nonprofit so that it can fund meals for seniors in need. The Sandbar also prepares food for the Meals on Wheels program.

Smit said with funding for programs like Meals on Wheels declining and as senior centers close their doors, places like the Sandbar could be a new and effective way to help communities meet their senior populations' needs.

"Fresh food and warm food and then just talking to the people to make sure they're OK is a huge part of it,” he said. “And so I see the traditional senior center in the decline."


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