As May is Older Americans Month, Medical Guardian is honoring older Americans by giving back to seniors in need through Philadelphia nonprofit, Philabundance. In addition to making a $1,500 donation to the organization, which will fund roughly 3,000 meals for seniors in need, our dedicated staff also packed 400 food boxes for seniors at its Hunger Relief Center in South Philadelphia.
We sat down with Hilary Stiebel, who works at Philabundance, to discuss the current nationwide hunger crisis affecting seniors.
Medical Guardian (MG): What is Philabundance and why did you join the organization?
Hilary Stiebel (HS): Philabundance is the Delaware Valley’s largest hunger relief organization, rescuing and distributing food to help feed those in need and advocating for public policies that increase food access. We seek to drive hunger from our communities today and end hunger forever.
I was interested in children’s nutrition and public health, as obesity and diabetes were on the rise, and could see the direct correlation between what people were eating and how it was affecting their health. Working with Philabundance has allowed me the opportunity to work with the community and improve access to quality foods that all people, especially children and seniors, need to thrive and to live well.
MG: What is your title and role at Philabundance, and how long have worked for the organization?
HS: I am the Programs Manager in our Community Food Programs Department. Essentially, I oversee our ongoing programs that deliver food directly to agencies and into the hands of our clients. An agency is a Philabundance partner that receives and distributes food to neighbors in need. I have worked at Philabundance for seven years.
MG: Would you say that there’s a hunger crisis in our country today? What percentage of seniors is in need of food?
HS: While 1 in 8 people in the U.S. are food insecure— in the Greater Philadelphia area, hunger is a crisis faced by 1 in 5 of our neighbors. Philabundance serves 90,000 people each week in nine counties in PA and Southern NJ. Of those served, 16% are seniors.
MG: Have you had any first-hand experiences with a senior struggling to receive food?
HS: Recently, a homebound woman looking for supplemental food resources was connected to my extension. We usually refer people to the WHY Hunger Hotline (1-800-5-HUNGRY), however, this woman stopped me in my tracks when she heard I was about to give her yet another number to try. And with that, she pushed me out of my comfort zone that day to do something different in order to help her. The truth is, she gave me the push I needed to shift my perspective and understand just how much of a struggle it is to get food, and that we have a lot more work to do to increase access and push through barriers.
MG: How does Philabundance combat senior-specific food insecurity? What type of food do seniors receive through your programs?
HS: Philabundance packs and distributes the government’s Commodity Supplemental Food Program boxes – CSFP or senior boxes – throughout the region, serving more than 4,500 seniors in need per month. Through this program, eligible seniors are qualified to receive a senior box, which contains 30 pounds of shelf-stable items and a 2-pound block of cheese. Each box contains vegetables, fruit, juice, meat and non-meat proteins, cereal or oats, pasta or rice, and dry milk. Knowing that there are many obstacles to receiving a CSFP box, and that we do not have enough boxes to feed all the seniors in our service area, we piloted a new program this year called PantryBox For Seniors, which gave us the opportunity to feed an additional 625 seniors per month without restriction. We received funding from the WW Smith Foundation for our PantryBox pilot program.
Additionally, many seniors access produce through our agencies or at our weekly neighborhood Fresh For All markets. Fresh For All is a pop-up neighborhood produce market that occurs every week at the same time and location.
MG: Why is it important to Philabundance to provide nutritious meals to seniors?
HS: Nutritious food is expensive. Seniors living on a fixed income often have to choose between spending limited resources on things like housing, healthcare, and other expenses leaving little left for groceries. The resources we provide help extend limited incomes, and supply seniors with quality nutrition they may otherwise miss in their diets.
MG: What are the program qualifications and where can people learn more?
HS: To qualify for CSFP, seniors need to be 60 years of age and at or below 130% of the poverty line. This means for a household of one, he/she has a monthly income of $1,316 or less. Seniors need to show photo ID and proof of income, such as a social security statement. To learn more about this, to find a participating agency, or if there is a waitlist, please call WHY Hunger at 1-800-5-HUNGRY or visit our website to learn more about our programs: www.philabundance.org
MG: Have you seen major changes--improvements or declines--in the area of senior food insecurity over the past few years?
HS: The current administration has proposed to eliminate all funding for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget request. CSFP is a critical nutrition program that delivers USDA commodities to seniors. CSFP is an important component of our nutrition efforts because it reaches many seniors who qualify for no other program while providing delivery (where available) for those that are homebound.
If this were to pass, it would result in the loss of almost 750,000 monthly food packages to seniors who rely on this food and might otherwise lack these nutrients in their diet.
MG: What can people do, not just in Philly, but nationwide, to make a difference for seniors who need food assistance? How can people donate?
HS: The best thing you can do is to be an advocate and call or write your Congressperson to advocate for continued CSFP funding. Urge them to maintain sufficient funding to support this program as they begin the appropriations process for FY19. Sign up to volunteer or donate to a local senior center or food pantry. Give now or learn more at www.Philabundance.org.