by John Q. Horn
There are more than 10,000 seniors living in Northwest Ohio who, at one time, proudly fed their own families. Now, Toledo-area seniors are facing hunger as they transition from being key providers to becoming homebound or otherwise needy, unsure from where, or when, they will receive their next meal.
The average American is living longer. According to data from the National Institute on Aging, Americans aged 65 can expect to live another 18 years. In 1900, it was 12 years.
As Baby Boomers age, they reach a new demographic. In Ohio, more than 250,000 older community members receive emergency food assistance. By 2015, experts say senior hunger is expected to increase by 50 percent. This community issue is not going away anytime soon, either. Organizers of local meal centers and mobile meal programs continue to serve more clients every month.
And the problem trickles down locally. In our region, approximately 12,000 senior citizens are facing hunger issues. That number comes from the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern, Inc. (AOA), a main player in the area’s fight against senior hunger.
Those 65 and older can be facing hunger due to any number of situations. Some may not have the money or family to care for them. Some are unaware that help exists, while others are too proud to ask for it. Some may be ill. There are still those with the monetary means, who, physically, cannot get out to purchase food or cook for themselves.
Rebecca Riedl is the Director of Nutrition and Wellness for the AOA. She agrees that numerous factors contribute to senior hunger and malnutrition. Pride, she said, is chief among them.
“Through our advocacy and outreach efforts, we sometimes come across situations where public funds are being stretched to serve both children and older adults,” she said.
“We have seen that, at times, older adults will stand aside or do without for the sake of their children in need. Parents, despite their own worries, want to help their adult children manage and grandparents want to help and support grandchildren, even if it means foregoing necessities for themselves.
“Children in school will tell teachers or others when they are hungry, older adults keep it to themselves. That’s why we refer to it as silent hunger,” Riedl explained.
Adding to the problem is inconsistent and stagnant—if not reduced—funding for programs at both the federal and state levels, all while food costs continue to increase. From a health standpoint, seniors are already at heightened risk as they age. Nutrition becomes a first line of defense when battling illness, and if a person is malnourished, it impedes the body’s ability to properly heal.
In Northwest Ohio, agencies and volunteers are committed to providing outreach and advocacy for seniors struggling with hunger issues. They are also helping to rebuild dignity to those no longer able to provide for their family and/or themselves.
One critical ally in the fight to stem senior hunger is Toledo-based nonprofit Mobile Meals and its Meals on Wheels Program. More than 500 Mobile Meals volunteers home-deliver nutritious and restricted-diet conscious meals to area seniors. The program serves more than 1,200 clients in a year, delivering upward of 500,000 meals to homebound community members.
Carolyn Fox, associate executive director, said Meals on Wheels delivers 600 warm, nutritious meals every day, a service that not only provides for older citizens, but that also helps those of any age who might be experiencing medical hardship.
“People think Meals on Wheels is simply for old, poor people,” Fox said. “We serve all demographics. If you have a medical need—wealthy or poor—there is no economic or age requirement.”
Food deliveries can be customized depending on the recipient’s needs. Options include meals delivered twice daily for five days (from $2.50-$9.30), or one meal delivered five days a week (from $2). Weekend and holiday meals are also available.
Community members on the volunteer crew make more than just food runs; the visits are also an opportunity for Meals on Wheels members to engage clients, while performing in-home wellbeing and health checks.
“We have been told by some people that we’re the reason the meal recipient gets up in the morning,” Fox said. “Sometimes that is the only person they will see all day.”
Providing food services to seniors requires a network of advocacy groups and volunteers, working cohesively toward the same mission. Like Meals on Wheels, AOA is embedded deep in the fight against senior hunger.
This nonprofit corporation provides an array of services for seniors, ranging from housing to health care and transportation, along with other services to provide assistance to clients.
AOA helps greater Toledo’s hungry through numerous programs, including a well-crafted system of 57 senior dining sites throughout a 10-county area. The dining sites are open daily, usually from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., serving as a community hub. Most sites are in senior centers, churches or other community venues.
Clients can customize their meals ahead of time. AOA’s drop-in meal program is not just a place to grab something to eat—centers provide opportunities for socializing and learning about agency programs. “Some in the community have a hard time believing that it is an issue in our country, much less in our own community,” Riedl said. “While hunger, in the sense of starvation, is not that prevalent here, malnutrition is a huge issue among the elderly population.”
Senior hunger has been an issue for decades. In 2014, Public Television affiliate WGTE-TV conducted a three-part series of meetings to discuss the issue and pursue solutions. Seeking Solutions To Senior Hunger brought together ProMedica, the Andersons Inc. Charitable Foundation, Buckeye Community Health, Seagate Food Bank, Toledo Northwest Ohio Food Bank and the AOA , creating public service announcements for media outlets.
In East Toledo, Helping Hands of St. Louis operates a soup kitchen that helps area seniors in the community since 1981. The Catholic Charities Diocese of Toledo oversees the agency. Lunch is served daily, with breakfast available Monday, Wednesday and Friday at two Toledo locations: 443 6th St. and 1933 Spielbusch Ave. There are additional agency chapters in Mansfield and Norwalk.
Helping Hands serves more than 350 warm meals per day. It provides more than 3,100 bags of groceries to area seniors annually. Under Director Paul Cook, Helping Hands has collaborated with numerous Knights of Columbus chapters, other area soup kitchens and churches to fortify a network of options for hungry seniors.
Cook says Helping Hands is seeing a 25-percent increase in demand for its services over last year. Many are new faces; hungry seniors with even hungrier grandchildren.
According to Andrea Slivka, marketing and communications manager for Catholic Charities Diocese of Toledo, Helping Hands served 5,000 more meals in 2014 than in 2013.
Cook said his agency averages around 90 meals per week, with roughly 500 volunteers making it happen both on-site and in the community.
Mobile Meals of Toledo and Meals on Wheels are located at 2200 Jefferson Ave.,
Helping Hands of St. Louis operates through several branches and location throughout NW Ohio. Visit them at
catholiccharitiesnwo.org/helping-hands-of-st-louis or call 419-224-6711.
The Area Office on Aging of Northwestern, Inc. is located at 2155 Arlington Ave.
Call 800-472-7277 or visit areaofficeonaging.com