According to Feeding America, nearly 200,000 people in a 10-county Western New York area (Monroe County included) can experience by food insecurity. Seniors are particularly affected
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
While many people have figured out ways to get what they need and do what they need to do during the pandemic, some older adults still feel the effects of food access challenges because of COVID-19.
Within the 10 counties comprising the Western New York through Monroe County area, Feeding America’s annual “map the meal gap” shows a 10.9% food-insecurity rate, which affects more than 136,000 people. The organization estimates that figure will rise to 15.7%, affecting almost 200,000 individuals.
While many businesses and organizations have opened since last year’s quarantine period and the supply chains have become re-established, many older adults are still understandably hesitant to go near crowds, even if that means avoiding the grocery store.
The frailty of older age, along with the age-related conditions many older adults experience, makes them more vulnerable to illnesses such as COVID-19. Staying away from crowds represents one strategy to limit exposure; however, it also makes obtaining food difficult.
“In March, April, May and into the summer, the calls kept coming — hundreds every day,” said Mary Rose McBride, vice president of marketing and communications at Lifespan. “Unable to leave the house and with food pantries closed, older adults’ food insecurity was obvious, and perhaps for the first time, highly visible. One caller said, ‘I only have one sleeve of Ritz crackers.’ Many, many others said they had only enough food for one day.”
She added that Lifespan is still fulfilling requests for food through FoodLink (https://foodlinkny.org), which provides the food, and Medical Motors, which delivers twice a week, to the tune of 300 boxes a month. Lifespan is also delivering meals to older adults who would ordinarily attend the Wolk Older Adult Café for meals.
Linda Tucker, registered dietitian and nutrition manager at ElderONE, an affiliate of Rochester Regional Health System, said that the pandemic has exacerbated food insecurity for older adults.
“A lot of seniors that were previously going to senior centers to get meals, most of those are closed,” she said.
She added that some have begun offering grab-and-go meals and home delivered food.
“Meals On Wheels has increased,” Tucker said. “Since the pandemic, there are 200 more clients per month, equaling 10,000 more home delivered meals per month by the Monroe County Home Delivered Meals program.”
She added that Wayne County is delivering about 1,500 more meals per month than prior to the pandemic. Some organizations like this have switched from daily meals to weekly deliveries of frozen meals.
The program also struggles because many of their drivers are older adults who feel concern about going out into the community; however, Tucker said that some young people on furlough from their jobs have stepped up to help.
Although most older adults saw no change to their income, they may live with relatives who are out of work or struggling with fewer hours. That means less money to spend on food.
FoodLink’s mobile food pantry supplies conventional food pantries for anyone in need of help. Since March, the organization has served 120,000 drive-through meals; 700,000 meals from the Community Kitchen and has maintained 36 curbside markets to help vulnerable people access affordable food.
Other organizations such as churches and senior centers have organized grab-and-go meals.
“Anything congregant is still canceled,” Tucker said. “At ElderOne, we are starting to have folks come back, but it’s only 10 or less, not the 60 to 70 participants we normally saw among our three centers. Each is open only a couple days a week.”
Limiting numbers helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 but it also limits the reach of such efforts in providing healthful meals.
South Wedge Food Program, offered by the ROC SALT Center (www.rocsaltcenter.org/southwedgefoodprogram), offers market hours and food delivery once a month. ROC SALT is part of the Presbytery of Genesee Valley. The center also provides personal care items and pet items.
Tucker has worked in meal delivery before, and likes that South Wedge offers pet items.
“We’d hear about people sharing their meals with their pets because they could not get pet food,” she said.
The City of Rochester’s Senior Meal Delivery Restaurant Grant Program involves 25 area restaurants that delivers three free meals a week to seniors in need. To participate, those 60-plus need to call 211.