Low-Income Michigan Seniors Face a Food Security Crisis

senior woman at pantry

“I need to get some food. And don’t give me any more numbers to call. I’m not calling any more numbers!”

When I answered the phone that day, it was clear that I was speaking to a woman at her wits end. Hunger makes people feel desperate, understandably. She began by asking how she could get some food, and it didn’t stop there. Through our conversation, she spelled out a number of the issues related to senior food security in our state.

“I can’t barely get out of my apartment and when I do, I can’t always count on that bus. When I’m out, I always try to bring something back for my neighbors who can’t get out. You know, we have trouble. Health problems. I know some of my younger neighbors see me struggle. Why doesn’t anyone offer to help me out?”

The woman continued on, telling me about the cuts to her benefits.

“What sort of person can live on $78 a month for food? Has anyone been to a grocery store lately?”

I listened intently.

“Are you still there?” she shouted into the phone.

“Yes Ma’am. I’m listening. Please go ahead,” I told her. At first she seemed surprised, but soon took liberty at an opportunity to be heard.

“I worked all my life and now I need some help! People want to judge me for having a television like I shouldn’t have any luxury if I get food stamps. If I had to sit here alone with this darn cat all day, I’d go crazy! I’m 78 years old. What am I supposed to do?”

“Are you still there?” She shouted again.

“Yes Ma’am.”

“Well,” her voice went up at the end. A resignation. She seemed to have gotten it out for now. “Well, what am I supposed to do?”

18% of Michigan’s seniors are dealing with this situation every day. We know that having access to healthy food is an underlying cause of food insecurity. Many of the barriers to this access were spelled out in our conversation: lack of transportation, health complications, lack of finances, lacking community support.

Exacerbating the problem is that many seniors are having to choose between paying for medications and food. This choice can further reduce access to nutritious food, which is very counterintuitive to promoting sound health.

Food Bank Council of Michigan (FBCM) was working on in order to improve food security for seniors throughout our state:

FBCM advocates tirelessly with our partners in Michigan’s legislature to increase the amount of healthy food available for those in need. This includes advocating for federal programs which increase assistance, such as 2014’s Farm Bill and the upcoming Child Nutrition Act reauthorization.

FBCM recently initiated a new, statewide program aimed at increasing the delivery of fresh produce to senior and school sites, pairing the food with nutrition education, to help motivate people to prepare and eat produce in healthy ways.

FBCM collaborates with numerous organizations, corporations and foundations to raise money to help purchase additional food for Michigan’s food banks.

Obtaining food was the main priority of our caller, and we are compassionate to that. Whenever possible, the regional food bank steps in to meet that need.

Of the many contributing factors to senior food security, Michigan food banks are continuously one step ahead of the game, anticipating the need and evaluating the precise steps needed to meet it.

For more information about Food Bank Council of Michigan or your regional food bank, go to fbcmich.org/find-help or call 517-485-1202.