When Judith had a stroke three years ago, she couldn’t talk for six months and was ultimately forced to quit her real estate job. She was disappointed because, although she was already well into her 70s, she’d planned to work for a few more years.
To help make ends meet, Judith attends Mobile Food Pantries, where she loves receiving fresh produce and other food. However, it wasn’t an easy decision for her to attend at first.
Ever since Judith got divorced at a young age and had to care for her three daughters on her own, she has been very independent.
“My husband left with his girlfriend. I worked two or three times a day to take care of my kids,” she said.
From learning to paint her home to changing the oil in her car, she’s never been afraid to learn something new and do it herself. Since her stroke, a lot of that has changed. Needing help — whether that’s with a household repair or getting enough food — has been challenging for her to accept at times.
“It’s embarrassing for people [to ask for help] and I understand that,” she said.
Like Judith, many seniors who have led long, independent lives feel unsure whether to ask for help — even as their fridges and cupboards go empty. According to Feeding America, only half of eligible seniors are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), perhaps due to barriers related to mobility, technology or stigma around receiving federal assistance. Other seniors are not eligible for SNAP benefits at all, even as they struggle to pay for medical bills or other expenses on a fixed income. Many of these neighbors rely on (or perhaps feel more comfortable attending) communal senior meal sites and traditional or Mobile Food Pantries, where camaraderie — even if just a quick talk with a volunteer — is included on the menu.
James and Susan are older adults among those ineligible for SNAP. They began attending Mobile Pantries last year after James injured his shoulder and was propelled into early and unexpected retirement. Despite these challenges, James did not receive unemployment benefits and went without a paycheck for 20 weeks. This made it difficult for the couple to put food on the table and forced them to deplete their savings.
Today, James receives disability income, which helps a bit. But the couple also relies on food pantries, in addition to a small garden, to fill the gaps on their plates.
James loves cooking and particularly appreciates receiving vegetables. “When I get vegetables, it’s soup time!” he said.
Feeding America West Michigan partners with organizations across our 40 counties that make it a priority to serve seniors and older adults like Judith, James and Susan. No matter the reason they cannot make ends meet, all neighbors should have access to enough food for a healthy, active life.