It’s easy to imagine that widespread hunger is an urgent problem only in places far poorer than America. Yet hunger is a terribly serious concern across the United States, including among older adults. In fact, nearly 9 million U.S. men and women age 50 and older face the risk of hunger, meaning they are forced to skip meals or buy poor quality food, and between 2001 and 2009, that number increased by almost 80 percent.
As a country, we need to take steps to feed those who are hungry now while also developing long-term, sustainable solutions to the root causes of hunger among those 50 and older.
A report commissioned by AARP Foundation, “Food Insecurity among Older Adults,” found that people in their 50s – who for the most part are too young for Social Security and too old to qualify for programs designed for families with children – experienced a 38 percent increase in the risk of hunger between 2007 and 2009.
One key factor adding to vulnerability is the low enrollment rate in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) among eligible older adults. Just one-third of the eligible men and women age 60 and older participate in SNAP, compared with two-thirds of those in other age groups who are eligible.
Drive to End Hunger is a national initiative led by AARP and AARP Foundation to combat hunger among those 50 and older. We’re coming to Charlotte next week to help provide solutions for hungry older adults in North Carolina, where the problem is particularly acute. Over nine percent of older North Carolinians are at risk of hunger, and North Carolina ranks seventh for food insecurity among adults age 50 and over.
We’re bringing together volunteers of all ages at the Charlotte Convention Center on May 24 and 25 to assemble and donate 1 million meals. We’re calling it the Charlotte 1 Million, and we’re inviting people to package meals alongside celebrities including tennis legend Martina Navratilova and CBS NFL Today’s James “JB” Brown.
The event will build significant awareness of older adult hunger. Older Americans, many of whom spent much of their lives taking care of others, are often embarrassed to admit they need help themselves. Increasing awareness of this solvable problem will help build greater commitment to identify long-term solutions.
In the days before the NASCAR races in Charlotte, let’s all remember that hunger is not an issue for spectators. Each of us can make a difference. To learn more and sign up, go to www.drivetoendhunger.org/meals.