As the holiday giving season begins, social services agencies are trying to reach a growing population of seniors, particularly those living on their own.
These seniors, however, may be less inclined to ask for help, not wanting to burden others or too embarrassed to admit they need it.
“There’s a whole silent majority of elderly, living alone and living in some pretty dire conditions, that don’t get the focus that hungry kids get,” said Bob Evans, director of Mesa’s United Food Bank. “It’s going to be a growing population.”
In the next 20 years, the number of people age 65 and older is expected to double in Maricopa County. Although the number of poor seniors has declined slightly, according to the U.S. Census, nearly half would be in poverty if not for their Social Security income. Still, the median annual income for a woman older than 65 is $10,899.
Many retirees who expected to live comfortably on Social Security and pension incomes have seen their investments dwindle and their health care bills increase. Some have returned to work when they had planned to live out the rest of their lives in leisure. Others, however, are unable to work.
“Living on a fixed income right now is really difficult, and we all know what (seniors) pay for prescriptions,” said Sue Ringler, director of Paz de Cristo Community Center in Mesa. “But those folks would never, ever come to us for a food box.”
So Paz de Cristo took United Food Bank up on its offer to provide “help yourself” food boxes, where people pay $15 in cash or food stamps for $60 or more worth of food. The fact that they are paying something, Ringler said, encourages more seniors to participate.
The Help Yourself program is 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Friday at United Food Bank, 358 E. Javelina Ave., and on the first Tuesday and third Saturday of every month at Paz de Cristo, 424 W. Broadway Road. Seniors make up about 10 percent of those who come to Scottsdale’s social services center, Vista del Camino, said director Rita Koppinger. The agency’s location next to the Scottsdale Senior Center helps promote the programs there, from food boxes to utility assistance. Outreach also is done in area churches, she said.
The Mesa Senior Center’s home-delivered meals program brings 350 meals to clients every day. An additional 100 meals a day are brought to seniors at a small cost through churches and the senior center. And the senior center delivered 6,000 meals last year to people recovering from illness or recent hospitalization.
St. Mary’s Food Bank also provides food boxes to seniors and the disabled who can’t leave their homes. About 1,500 Valley residents receive a monthly food box through the Bridges Reaching the Elderly and Disabled, or BREAD, program, which is operated by volunteers.
“That program has a much greater demand than we can meet,” said Paul Barnes, director of St. Mary’s Food Bank.
Many seniors lack proper nutrition either because they can’t afford it or lack the interest to fix a meal, according to the Arizona State Plan on Aging, prepared by the state Department of Economic Security’s Aging and Adult Administration to project the needs of seniors through 2007. They also may be unable to shop or cook for themselves.
In addition, an estimated 25 percent of Arizona’s elderly have a significant mental or behavioral health problem, such as memory disorders, depression or substance abuse. “How do we help these folks feel more comfortable about asking for assistance? It is a very vulnerable segment of our society,” Barnes said.
“It isn’t going to get better for them,” he said, “it’s going to get worse.”
How to offer or find help
- United Food Bank, 358 E. Javelina Ave., Mesa, (480) 926-4897
- Paz de Cristo Community Center, 424 W. Broadway Road, Mesa, (480) 464-2370
- Mesa Community Action Network, 635 E. Broadway Road, (480) 833-9200
- Vista del Camino, 7700 E. Roosevelt St., Scottsdale, (480) 312-2323
- Tempe Community Action Agency, 2150 E. Orange St., (480) 350-5880
- Community Information and Referral, (602) 263-8856, (800) 352-3792