May is “Older Americans Month”

May is "Older Americans Month"

Did you know that May is Older Americans Month (OAM)? The appreciation month for seniors dates back to 1963, when President Kennedy designated May Senior Citizens Month (later renamed Older Americans Month), and every president since has issued a formal proclamation that the entire nation pay tribute to older persons and their contributions to our communities. While the month is dedicated to honoring our nation’s seniors, it is also an opportunity to raise awareness about important issues facing older adults.

Feeding America research and reports document the prevalence of food insecurity among Older Americans. As Americans age, they begin to face many challenges, including limited access to healthy and nutritious food, higher medical costs, decreased earnings and reliance on a fixed income. In fact, a limited income can prevent some older adults from being able to afford the foods their bodies require for healthy aging. Many seniors are forced to make the tough choice of whether to pay for food or to pay for other necessities such as medication.

Surviving on a Fixed Income

LeDoux & Robert, Missoula

At their home overlooking the Clark Fork River, LeDoux, a retiree in her mid-seventies, and her husband Robert, a veteran in his early eighties, toured their impressive garden of cherries, grapes, and vegetables, "In the summer, we grow and preserve as much of our food as possible." Yet, they enjoy sharing their harvest, as LeDoux explained, "I was raised to always have something left over to give away to friends who may need it. That's the way it was on the homestead in Eastern Montana, everybody helped everybody else."

Their hardship exemplifies difficulties older Americans face when living on a fixed income. Rober shared, "Our regular income from Social Security and my small state pension goes to paying for this house, mortgage, power, water, garbage, and sewer. We don't have much leftover."

LeDoux planned to have a larger retirement, but she lost her business and pension because of a divorce, "I thought this could never happen to me but it did."

Robert recently lost his part-time job at a local university where he had worked for 35 years, most recently as a dance class musical accompanist. This income had provided a necessary supplement for basic expenses, "I need to find another way to generate a few hundred bucks a month, but who wants to hire an 82 year old. Age discrimination happens." Because of their backgrounds teaching at Montana universities, LeDoux shared, "We would like to teach, not work as a greeter at a store, which probably wouldn't bring in much money anyway." Undeterred, Robert is compiling his music and plans to find unique opportunities to perform.

The couple receives SNAP, which not only provides adequate food, but also as Robert explained, "SNAP helps free up a little bit of money to buy other ordinary human requirements like dish soap and toilet paper." They began using SNAP a few years ago when they struggled to meet living costs.

LeDoux shared, "All my life I've been an advocate of people claiming assistance if they need it. When we had to cut back and couldn't afford adequate groceries, I had to practice what I preached."

Unfortunately, last summer a clerical error delayed their SNAP benefits. At the time, LeDoux was recovering from an operation and her insurance failed to cover a prescription, so she had to contemplate, "whether to get medicine or put food on the table." Luckily, the pharmacy allowed her to make partial payments, and they are now back on SNAP.

LeDoux believes supporting those who are struggling will benefit the community as much as the individual, "When you feel somewhat secure in your home and with food, medical care and your health, you also feel like you have something to give to others. I think that's what we desperately need to build communities. It's a sense of security for all people."

Get Involved

To address senior food insecurity, we must increase access to food assistance programs, including SNAP, Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), and Congregate and Home Delivered Meal Programs, as well as to affordable housing, health care, and transportation.

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