Fresh produce helps seniors facing food shortages

Jo Hayes, or Mama Jo, as she likes to be called, lives at Vintage at Spokane, a 55+ apartment complex on Spokane’s North Side. She comes down to visit with Second Harvest’s AmeriCorps team as they bring fresh produce and bread on their monthly visits to the complex.

Hayes, 80, said she doesn’t always need the extra food, but glad it’s there when she does. She knows it’s a lifesaver for some of her needier neighbors.

 "I think it does a lot of people good. This is all that some of them get. It gives them something to look forward to. It's fantastic,” she said. “For a lot of people, they don’t have money to go out and get food. They get left behind, and they don’t eat as well.”

More than 5 million seniors often skip meals or wonder where their next meal is coming from, according to research from Feeding America and the National Council on Aging. Low-income seniors are often eligible for things like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) which provides monthly funds to buy food, but less than half of eligible seniors are enrolled.

This ‘SNAP gap’ exists for a variety of reasons, including “lack of knowledge about the benefit, misunderstanding the eligibility requirements, difficulty completing the application and the stigma surrounding participation in the program,” according to Feeding America.

Programs like Second Harvest’s senior produce markets help fill that gap for seniors in need. Without access to fresh, healthy food, many would just go without, or eat meals without the nutrition they need.

"I like the variety you have,” Hayes said. “As you grow older, you need as much balance in you food as you can get. A lot of seniors are just barely making it, we don't have money for extra stuff."