This August, the Alameda County Community Food Bank joined a bus tour hosted by California senators Carol Liu (D-La Cañada, Flintridge) and Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) to give those living in poverty a face and a voice. The “Road to Resilience” bus tour’s last stop was the California Senate, where Krista Lucchesi, director of the Mercy Brown Bag Program, testified on senior hunger.
This is her testimony. Names of clients have been changed to protect their privacy.
Madam Chair and esteemed Senators, thank you for the opportunity to tell you about the seniors I love.
Last month, as Walter pushed his cart full of free groceries, the 82-year-old gentleman told his friend, “I did my budget this morning; after PG&E, the rent, insurance, and phone, if everything goes OK, I’ll have $1.57 at the end of the month.”
Living on an income that does not cover your basic needs leads to very difficult choices. Here are four stories of the thousands that happen every day:
- On a 90-degree day, Maria’s wrinkled, arthritic hands slowly fan herself because $1.57 is not enough to run her fan for 10 minutes.
- The only thing in Edwin’s billfold is the prescription for his heart medication. He hasn’t filled it, because $1.57 is not enough for the co-pay.
- Shari sometimes forgets she’s already shown me pictures of her granddaughter, she’s been waiting so long for a granddaughter. But $1.57 is not enough for a birthday present, or even a card and a stamp.
- Through teary eyes, Elenore told me her best friend of 48 years, her maid of honor, is dying in the hospital alone – but $1.57 is not enough for a bus ticket.
Maria, Edwin, Shari, and Elenore thought that retirement was when “everything goes OK.” Instead of hard-earned relaxation in their golden years, they find stress in making difficult choices with limited resources.
So how did they solve the problems I just listed? All four of them skipped meals. Shari allowed herself only 1/3 of a can of soup each day for two weeks so she could buy a doll for her granddaughter.
If this is the sacrifice made when they get free groceries, what happens to the other seniors in California who do not have help?
After our seniors have given their all, in this land of plenty, they now are going without because everything did not go OK. Things like: My husband died, I broke my hip, no one will hire a 77-year-old, I lost the house to a scam, my body gave out and I couldn’t work, my son spent a year in the hospital and the savings disappeared.
No one thought it would be this hard, every day. They are stunned that the community they helped to build has now seemingly forgotten them. That isolation hurts. And many would almost rather die than ask for help.
“If everything goes OK.” What fear and hope live in those four words!
We are a nation of folks who are hoping “everything is going to be OK.” One in five Americans have no retirement savings. The McKinsay Global Institute predicts that for every three Baby Boomers, two will not be able to meet their pre-retirement needs, including food. Senior hunger is a growing epidemic.
Mercy Brown Bag Program relies on those four magic words as well. “If everything goes OK, my funders will hang in there with us.” But it has not worked out that way these last four years.
Our biggest funding cut was in 2009. We lost $25,000 of state funding and $20,000 of City of Oakland set-aside funds, a full quarter of our budget. Many California Brown Bag Programs closed that year.
Programs like mine are only sustainable when all parts of community, including government, take responsibility for our struggling neighbor and make it happen.
Because of community, last year we gave out over a million pounds of food in 50,500 bags to help “everything go OK” for 3,200 households. In-kind community support, in the form of staffing, space and food, allowed us to provide each senior two 20-pound bags of groceries a month, for only $66. Not $66 for a month – $66 for a whole year.
The easiest and cheapest way to help our elders age in place is to provide nutrition. Otherwise, they are going to land in an expensive hospital, where the average cost of one day is $1,853. Mercy Brown Bag Program can feed 28 seniors for a year with that much.
Food banks and pantries realize senior hunger will double in the next few years. Just like our seniors don’t know day to day if they will have food to eat, we don’t know if we’ll have enough food to give. The Alameda County Community Food Bank gets 1,100 helpline calls from seniors each month. The need is obviously there, but we can’t grow to meet it without secure funding.
Seniors are living on a tightrope hoping “everything goes OK.” The programs that are trying to help them are, too.
When you are young, and again when you are old, you have to reply on others to provide your care. It is now our responsibility to insure that every senior in California has access to adequate nutrition.
On behalf of the seniors who passed around a recipe for cat-food croquettes, please continue this conversation. Find cost-effective solutions, and make nutrition a priority. The seniors need you to end their suffering.
Madam Chair, thank you for this hearing, it allows me to hope that making difficult choices about food will be no more, and “everything will be OK.”
From here: “If Everything Goes OK…” – Albany, CA Patch.