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How the Pandemic Has Affected Food Security for Millions of Seniors

Hollie Baker-Lutz

Director of Equitable Access, Feeding America

There is an unfortunate truth about COVID-19: the older you are, the greater your risk of severe illness from the virus.

So far, 79 percent of people in the United States who have died from COVID-19 are 65 or older, and many of them had underlying health conditions and other factors threatening their health.

For millions of seniors already struggling to put food on the table, the COVID-19 pandemic is not just a health issue — it’s a food security issue. 

Lack of access

According to Feeding America’s “The State of Senior Hunger in America report, 5.3 million seniors age 60 and older did not have consistent access to nutritious food in 2018. This pre-pandemic number does not consider rising unemployment and poverty rates amid COVID-19, which may push millions more seniors into food insecurity. 

Additionally, seniors have been asked to stay indoors and practice social distancing, making it that much more challenging to access nutritious food. While such measures are mandated to help halt the spread of the virus, it may prevent seniors from accessing food at food pantries, senior centers, grocery stores, and more. 

Certain socioeconomic factors are also impacting some seniors more than others, especially if they: 

  • Are racial or ethnic minorities — The food insecurity rate among Black seniors is 15.1 percent and its 14.8 percent for Hispanic seniors, compared to the 6.2 percent of their white counterparts  
  • Are low-income — 29.5 percent of food insecure seniors live below the poverty line 
  • Have a disability — 13.8 percent of food insecure seniors have a disability  
  • Are female — More than 6 in 10 seniors facing hunger are women
  • Live with grandchildren — 16.2 percent of seniors in multi-generational households are food insecure, compared to 6.9 percent of seniors in households where there are no grandchildren present

No excuse

No matter their circumstance, seniors should not go hungry. To best support this population during the pandemic, the Feeding America nationwide network of 200 food banks is working closely with food pantries and meal programs to make changes to ensure the safety of visitors and the food they serve. A variety of low- or no-contact options are now available in many areas, including seniors-only hours, drive-through pantries, expanded home delivery services, and more.

If you are a senior or caregiver in need of help, you can search by zip code or state using the Feeding America Food Bank Locator, and contact the food bank that serves your area. They will give you information on free pantries and programs nearest you.

We also encourage the general public to visit and learn how they can help their neighbors facing hunger. We can all work together to fight hunger and help ensure seniors have access to the food they need to live a healthy life.

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