Last month, The Food Group hosted its first Community Conversation event. This thought leadership event is an opportunity for The Food Group to delve into topics that are relevant to our mission and the communities we serve. The evening featured speaker Martin Wera, who shared his findings and reflections from his Bush Fellowship on supporting older adults and their growing need for community and food solutions. Sophia Lenarz-Coy, our Director of Programs & Operations, and our Executive Director, Lori Thorpe, also discussed how The Food Group is responding to this systemic issue.
Martin made it abundantly clear that the new face of hunger in America is older adults. The concern around this issue stems from his experience with aging parents- while trying to navigate the different services and systems to access nutritious food for seniors, he realized how broken the system was.
In Minnesota, we are witnessing a demographic change that has never occurred before—older adults, age 65+, will outnumber people aged 0-17 by the year 2050. This drastic shift will not slow down and is also occurring across the rest of the nation.
Food insecurity is a predicament that leaves older adults vulnerable to negative health impacts such as depression, heart attack, asthma and congestive heart failure. The fact that Americans have little saved for retirement turns hunger into an economic issue. Some can’t afford to buy the nutritious food they need, or they are forced to choose between buying food or medications. Growing old is expensive and we know that in Minnesota, older adults will spend more than the median amount saved for retirement in less than one year just to meet their basic needs.
When we question what can be done to better serve older adults we need to look at what makes us healthy. The quality of medical care we receive contributes to about 20% of our overall health, the other 80% is determined by social factors such as income and wealth, family and social support, where we live, and our diet. As a society, we focus a lot of our attention on medical care, and this is where we need to start shifting our thinking.
In looking at the intersection of food, aging and health, there are opportunities to update and strengthen the current system to increase access to affordable and culturally relevant foods, opportunities to address social isolation and loneliness by examining our programming models, and opportunities to work with the health care systems to measure the impact of food access on health outcomes.
What I learned was both discouraging and hopeful. To be sure, there are big challenges facing all of us and systems that need dramatic change to meet the coming needs. But, gratefully, there are also some amazing, committed individuals and organizations working hard to make that change happen. One of those organizations is The Food Group, which I am now on the board of directors for.Martin Wera
As Sophia explained, The Food Group is working with food shelves and meal programs, and we know that the largest growing segment of people using food shelves is seniors—in the last 5 years visits have increased 39%. We are thinking about how we can tailor our services differently to meet the food needs of our aging communities. We offer nutritious food options, ones we know are good for health issues such as diabetes and hypertension. We are also working to change the model of food shelves and look to more mobile options, having longer hours and offering transportation to those that may not be able to get there otherwise.
As we heard back from one of our attendees in our follow-up survey, The information was really moving and has stuck with me. Because of the event on aging, I plan to seek a volunteer opportunity visiting with an elderly person in an assisted living facility.
Our Community Conversation events are occasions for The Food Group staff, board members, agency partners, community leaders, friends and anyone who has a passion for learning and discussing how we can all work towards making a difference when we work together.
If you are interested in attending a Community Conversation event we are planning to host more in the future! Information will be made available on our Facebook page as well as our website event page.
Is there a topic you would like to see presented about? Please let us know at [email protected]