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As Pandemic Continues, Alarming Rise in Hunger Among KY Older Adults

Food insecurity among older adults and seniors has spiked during the COVID-19 crisis. (Adobe Stock)
Food insecurity among older adults and seniors has spiked during the COVID-19 crisis. (Adobe Stock)
August 13, 2020

OWENSBORO, Ky. -- The state's food banks say they're seeing an alarming number of adults approaching retirement age who need help putting food on the table because of lost wages or employment due to COVID-19.

Even before the pandemic, Kentucky had the highest rate of food-insecure older adults in the nation, but advocates said more newcomers, many who have never had to rely on food assistance, are now seeking help.

Dana Pevler, executive director for the Senior Community Center of Owensboro-Daviess County, said her organization provides Meals on Wheels, and serves drive-through lunches at five different locations in the region.

She said the spike in demand hasn't slowed down since the onset of the pandemic.

"While we should be seeing a waning off of some of these clients, we're not; we're seeing continued growth, steady growth, seven clients a week, maybe more, that are joining us on meals," Pevler said. "And so what that does for us, as providers, it worries us."

She added despite the challenges, food banks and senior centers are committed to ensuring older Kentuckians have enough to eat during the public health crisis.

From March through June of this year, more than 120,000 Commodity Supplemental Food Program boxes were distributed to older adults and seniors in the state through regional food-assistance groups.

Pevler said distribution networks such as Meals on Wheels and other home-delivery programs do more to support communities than many people realize.

"The criticality of the home-delivered meal program is astronomical," Pevler said. "We're not just dropping off a meal. It's way more than a meal. It's having an extra set of eyes and ears stopping in that home every day, making sure they're healthy, they're safe, and they're cared for."

The Novak Family Foundation works with regional organizations that provide food assistance.

Ashley Novak Butler, executive director for the foundation, said she has noticed an overwhelming uptick in funding requests.

"It's one that we're finding in those grant requests that come from a lot of the local Kentucky organizations; you know, the local and statewide organizations," Butler said. "A lot of those grant requests are for addressing the senior population."

Experts say boosting SNAP benefits by at least 15% as part of additional coronavirus relief legislation would help more households and older adults purchase food, while reducing the number of individuals leaning on food banks and pantries.

Research shows for every one meal provided by a food bank, SNAP provides nine.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY