According to the National Council on Aging, there are over 7 million adults age 60+ in the United States experiencing food insecurity. In some cases, food insecurity is the result of a person not having the money or resources to buy enough food. Food insecurity can also arise when a person does not have access to supermarkets or grocery stores due to their geographic location, lack of transportation options, or mobility limitations.
Older adults who experience food insecurity are more likely to be affected by chronic health conditions including diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Good nutrition is a key factor in reducing the risk of many age-related health conditions such as cancer, dementia, and heart disease. Without consistent access to a well-rounded diet, it becomes more difficult for older adults to maintain their health or to effectively manage chronic health conditions.
The impacts of food insecurity are disproportionately experienced in our LGBTQ communities. Research from the Williams Institute revealed that 27% of LGBT adults experienced food insecurity in the past year, compared to 17% of non-LGBT people. Given the many ways that access to nutritious food affects overall health, improving food security is an important step in reducing the health disparities that affect our LGBTQ communities.
While there is still a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done to address the structural issues that cause food insecurity in today’s society, there are several resources here in Greater Philadelphia that can help older adults to access more regular meals and healthier food options.
There are 28 senior community centers and satellite meal sites across the city that receive funding from the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) to provide free lunchtime meals to any Philadelphia resident age 60 or over, regardless of income. Most senior centers in Philadelphia are still primarily operating virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic but many are offering “grab & go” meals available for pick-up. To locate a senior center or meal site in your neighborhood, contact PCA at 215-765-9040.
Older adults who have difficulties getting to or from a congregate meal location may qualify to have PCA-funded meals delivered to their homes. The Home-Delivered Meals Program is designed for older adults and people with disabilities who experience difficulties affording balanced meals, shopping for food, or cooking meals at home. Individuals interested in this program will go through a care assessment with PCA to determine their eligibility (call 215-765-9040 or visit pcacares.org/request-assistance).
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture offers a Senior Food Box Program for lower-income older Pennsylvanians. The program seeks to supplement the diets of older adults with nutrients that are typically lacking in the diets of older individuals. These boxes include non-perishable foods items such as non-fat dry and shelf-stable fluid milk, juice, oats, ready-to-eat cereal, rice, pasta, dry beans, peanut butter, canned meat, poultry, or fish, and canned fruits and vegetables. Older adults interested in this program can contact the Bureau of Food Assistance at 800-468-2433 or RA-Fooddist@pa.gov.
The Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) is another resource for older Pennsylvanians. The program provides income-eligible older adults with vouchers for locally grown fruits and vegetables from participating farmers markets in Pennsylvania. To be eligible, seniors must be 60 or older and meet the federal income guidelines for the program, $23,828 for an older adult who lives alone or $32,227 for a two-person household. Philadelphians who participated last year should have received an application in the mail for their 2021 vouchers. Older adults outside of Philadelphia can apply through their county Area Agency on Aging.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federal program that provides funds to income-eligible individuals and families to be used on groceries. Benefits are provided monthly through an Electronic Benefit Transfer card that can be used at grocery stores and farmers markets. Pennsylvanians can apply for SNAP online through the PA Department of Human Services (www.compass.state.pa.us) or in person at their local County Assistance Office. The Coalition Against Hunger operates a SNAP Hotline (215-430-0556) to help complete SNAP applications over the phone.
Philadelphians with access to the internet can also use the website phillyfoodfinder.org for a comprehensive listing of 700+ food pantries, soup kitchens, and food distribution locations across the city, broken down by neighborhood. Calling 3-1-1 can also connect individuals with free or low-cost food sites in their communities.