Nevada: the new face of senior hunger?

According to a recent study, Nevada ranks 10th in the nation when it comes to senior hunger. The study – titled “Senior Hunger in America 2010: An Annual Report” – was prepared by noted economists James P. Ziliak and Craig Gundersen and released in May by the Meals On Wheels Research Foundation.

As of 2010 (the latest year for which data is available), 16.5 percent of Nevada’s seniors faced the threat of hunger, surpassing the national average of 14.85 percent. Mississippi has the highest rate in the nation at 21.53 percent.

Nationwide, the research shows that 8.3 million seniors, age 60 or older, are threatened by hunger, an increase of 78 percent from 2001 to 2010. And seniors have been hit especially hard in recent years. As the study states: “In a striking difference from the total population, between 2009 and 2010, the percentage of seniors threatened by hunger increased. This suggests that the Great Recession had more enduring effects … on older Americans than for the general population.”

Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada’s Meals On Wheels program currently prepares and delivers more than 7,000 meals weekly and approximately 365,000 meals annually. And demand has been rising, even as funding for the program has been reduced. Part of the increase in need can be attributed to the poor economy, but some can be attributed to the aging population and medical advances that prolong life. Catholic Charities constantly struggles to address its waiting list, which is currently at 785 individuals, although it has been as high as 1,000.

Catholic Charities is just one of 5,000 Meals On Wheels programs across the country, each of which is suffering under the burden of increased demand and rising costs for food and fuel. Those of us involved in delivering those services persevere, because we know the impact that our programs have on the seniors we serve. Often the meals we deliver will be the only food a senior will eat that day, and a Meals On Wheels delivery person may be the only human contact a homebound senior will have.

Nevada’s seniors should not have to forgo meals because they lack the funds or the physical ability to provide them for themselves. We have the cure for the disease of senior hunger. It involves the infrastructure already available to provide meals, the courage to acknowledge where we have failed our seniors, and the compassion and resources required to overcome that failure.

Nevada should not only strive to remove itself from the Top 10 list for senior hunger. It should become the first state in the nation to end senior hunger.

Dawn Davis is vice president of food services for Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada. Enid Borden is the CEO of the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger.

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