Hunger in Delco: Medicine, heat or food? Local help is available so senior citizens don’t have to choose
“Do you want to have your heart broken?” asks Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry volunteer Avis Beck. “Have a 60 or 65 year old man come up to you to get food with tears in his eyes because he’s been laid off from his job and can’t afford to feed himself or his family.”
Beck has been a volunteer at Loaves and Fishes, located in the Prospect Hill Baptist Church in Prospect Park, for about six years, packing and distributing boxes of food to help local residents in need to put food on their tables. Working with a group of volunteers who are retired like her, she especially feels empathy for the elderly who come through the pantry.
“A lot of the older folks here don’t have assistance from their families because so many family members move away these days,” Beck continued. “The need for a little help is big among the elderly who are often on a fixed income. With the cost of living so high, many have to scrimp on food in order to pay for utilities or medicine.”
Avis and the other volunteers said they feel sorry for so many older people who get laid off from their jobs and can’t find another because they lack the technology skills of the younger generations. The types of jobs for which these workers are qualified and trained have virtually disappeared. This segment of the elderly often comes by Loaves and Fishes seeking help, they said.
Loaves and Fishes Director Joanne Castagna said those working at the pantry are keenly aware how many older people need extra help and support to eat right. While most seniors live on limited income, the price of food and everything else continues to rise, she said.
Everyone, even seniors, must qualify at 150 percent of Poverty Level to be served by the pantry, which is presently serving 1,200 families. The pantry is meant to be a supplement to help stretch the food budget of those in need, not the main source of food supply. A week’s worth of groceries is given out to each client monthly by Loaves and Fishes, which is a part of the Interfaith Food Assistance Network, a group of 12 pantries in Delco administered by Family and Community Services of Delaware County. The agency provides the pantries with government-assisted food and the rest comes from individual and corporate donations.
The government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is available to those who qualify and that is what helps people in need of all ages with the majority of their nutritional needs.
Additionally, 120 of the seniors served at Loaves and Fishes are eligible to participate in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) Senior Box Program. The Senior Box Program entitles seniors to an additional box of food and two pounds of cheese. Often, seniors need additional snacks or food in the evening for when they take their medications. Philabundance (www.philabundance.org) packs and distributes these boxes to strategically chosen locations throughout the Delaware Valley, ensuring that more seniors have access to shelf-stable foods to last throughout the month.
Seniors who have a difficult time getting to the Pantry to pick up the food are able to fill out a proxy form to have another pick up the groceries, Castagna said. Some seniors (one as old as 92) take the bus to Loaves and Fishes on Tuesday or Thursday when the food is distributed. Although the pantry does not have the capacity to deliver, often Philabundance will deliver the Senior Boxes to Constitution Avenue in Woodlyn where some of the pantry’s elderly clients reside.
The Pantry tries to work with the seniors to accommodate their specialized needs, Castagna explained. The staff there found a cart for a woman who comes on the bus and they often will carry food out for the elderly and disabled. Volunteers at the pantry try to give seniors pre-made and individual meals when they are available, she elaborated, because they realize cooking is sometimes difficult for an elderly person living alone.
When seniors pick up their groceries at Loaves and Fishes, there are usually tables filled with fresh produce donated by local gardeners and fresh pastries from local bakeries. Seniors are encouraged to help themselves to these items, too, Castagna said.
Several local Senior Centers also distributed Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program produce vouchers to seniors who qualified this past summer, as part of an annual program to encourage seniors to include fresh fruit and vegetables in their diet. The vouchers had to be used to purchase Pennsylvania-grown produce at certified farmers’ markets throughout Delaware County.
Loaves and Fishes invites Community Action Agency personnel to the pantry about four times each month to aid the elderly who may need assistance filling out SNAP applications. According to the SNAP website, 9 percent of all SNAP users are seniors.
Help is also available to seniors in need at local Senior Community Services centers in Delaware County. The Centers serve a hot lunch daily for the low cost of $2 for a cooked meal and $3 for a deli meal. If a senior can’t afford the price, he or she may give whatever they can, said Schoolhouse Center Director Kim McDaniel. Schoolhouse in Ridley Township and the other SCS centers in Darby Township, Chester and Darby, also serve as home base for the local COSA Senior Suppers program. Hot meals are delivered to homebound seniors every weekday.
Seniors may also seek help from Aid for Friends. McDaniel advised all seniors to call the County Office of Services for the Aging (COSA) to see if they qualify for Mom’s Meals, which are mailed out, Senior Suppers, Meals on Wheels or Aids For Friends. COSA (www.delcosa.org or 610-490-1300), headquartered in Eddystone, will assess each case and hook seniors up with their most suitable program.
Every senior who is served by COSA will have a nutritional needs assessment to determine their nutritional health, medication use, oral health and other factors that could contribute to malnutrition. COSA will devise a plan to best fit the individual and ensure their nutritional needs are met. The agency will often also refer a client for nutrition counseling at an area hospital.
McDaniel said seniors especially need the food programs because they are prone to malnutrition from not eating correctly. She listed many reasons that seniors don’t eat as they should: Medication that throws off appetites; depression and isolation; alcohol abuse; dental problems; mental health issues; too much bother to cook for just self; limited income; and inability to cook a meal due to medical conditions like poor eyesight or when a senior needs both hands to hold onto a walker.
Having the money to buy groceries is usually right up at the top of the list, McDaniel said.
“If you are living on $500-$700 a month and you must pay for utilities, taxes, medications, groceries and other necessities, things can get pretty dicey, especially in the summer and winter when utility bills rise from heat and air conditioning,” McDaniel explained.
McDaniel said the Schoolhouse staff works with seniors to apply for SNAP and other programs that can help, like Community Transit, so seniors will have transportation to go grocery shopping. According to current statistics released by the Pennsylvania Meals on Wheels Program, about 423,232 seniors in the state are struggling with hunger. About 1.8 million Pennsylvanians of all ages are receiving food stamps.
Seniors living in Southeastern Delaware County also have access to a new program there, “Aging at Home.” The community program sets seniors up with all the programs they need to remain in their homes, including getting proper nutritional meals.
Delaware County seniors are also fortunate because many local supermarkets deliver, including Acme, The Fresh Grocer, Giant and Shop’N Bag/Thriftway.
According to McDaniel, the daily inexpensive luncheon program at local senior centers is also very helpful to many Delaware County seniors, especially those living alone or on limited budgets. Even if a person, ages 60 or above, is unable to afford the minimal cost, he or she is still able to come into the center for a meal. She explained that many older Americans will skip meals because they feel isolated and depressed. After the Older Americans Act was passed in 1965, senior centers sprouted across the country as places where seniors could eat together to get better nutrition.
Seniors gathered at a table during lunch at Schoolhouse recently echoed McDaniel’s theory.
Joan Lynn of Folsom said, “It’s so nice to have company when eating lunch. Everyone here is so sociable and it is way better than having to eat alone.”
“Lunch is always so delicious here,” diner Kathy Siefert of Glenolden exclaimed with a smile. “The food is much better and cheaper than fast food places. It’s more nutritious and there’s something different every day. I like talking with others while we eat.”
McDaniel said all meals at Schoolhouse Center are reviewed by a dietician to be sure they are properly balanced. Lunchers can give another small contribution to take food home afterward if there is any left over to eat for future meals.
“Seniors get a big bang for their buck in our kitchen,” she remarked with a grin.
In addition to all the food programs, Senior Community Services also offers ongoing educational classes, cooking demonstrations, nutrition talks and an Eat Smart series to help all seniors in the community to be aware of good nutrition and make healthy choices.
Staff at COSA and all SCS centers also aim to help seniors find alternative ways to save money so they won’t have to do without food because they need the money for other things. SCS and COSA staff often connect seniors with the PACE program to save on their prescriptions and utilities programs to help pay gas and electric bills. One lady came to the Schoolhouse Center, McDaniel said, and sought help going over her insurance bills. Schoolhouse staff found the lady was very over-insured with duplicate coverage and ended up saving her a couple of hundred dollars which in turned helped with affording her groceries.
“We are very happy to help our seniors make ends meet,” McDaniel stated. The director said she has seen up close and personal how difficult things can get for some older adults. Last year, the Center served three homeless elders. Fortunately, COSA was able to place one and the other two found subsidized housing.
“The important thing is to know that we (Delaware County) are a caring community and help of all kinds is available,” McDaniel said with sincerity. “No senior should ever be without proper nutrition.”
How To Help and Where To Get Help
The need for donations is ongoing at Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry in Prospect Park as well as all the food cupboards in Delaware County. Although Loaves and Fishes is extremely grateful to be supported by many generous businesses and community groups, including Grocers Against Hunger, Giant, Acme, Panera, Wawa, Eaton Corp., Linvilla Orchards, Traub Bakery, local Rotary and Lioness Clubs, area churches, Taylor Community Foundation, Boy Scout troops, Postal Workers, Souper Bowl of Caring, and many others, Loaves and Fishes Director Joanne Castagna said food and monetary donations are always welcome. Currently, the Pantry has a need for canned meats like tuna, Spam, canned hams, chili, chicken and dumplings, beef stew, and canned fruits. There is also always a need for dairy donations.
Castagna said the Pantry is also always looking for volunteers. At this time, Loaves and Fishes has about 40 volunteers making the operation run smoothly, but they need strong volunteers who can carry and lift items and unload trucks.
For more information, visit www.delcoloavesandfishes.org, or call (610) 532-9000. For information on donating, volunteering or getting help from other local food cupboards, soup kitchens and emergency supplies:
• Bernadine Center (Chester): 610-497-3225
• Calvary Baptist Church Soup Kitchen (Chester): 610-874-6717
• First United Methodist Church, Media: 610-566-3172
• City Team Ministries (Chester): 610-872-6865
• Greater Upper Darby Food Center at Calvary Presbyterian Church:
• First Baptist Church Food Pantry, Aston: 610-497-0700
• Church of the Nazarene Food Pantry, Collingdale: 610-583-7845
• Central Delco at St. Mark’s UM Church, Broomall: 610-325-1030
• Chester Eastside Ministries: 610-872-4812
Other contact information:
• Aid For Friends: 215-464-2224
• Aging At Home program, administered through Friendship Circle Senior Center in Darby: 484-534-2201 or e-mail email@example.com/.
• Nutrition Counseling: Mercy Fitzgerald (610-237-2525), Crozer Chester Medical Center (610-447-2000), Springfield Hospital (610-328-8700), Community Hospital (610-494-0700)
• Community Transit: 610-490-3960
• Community Action Agency of Delaware County: 610-874-8451
• SNAP food stamp benefits: 1-800-692-7462
• Delaware County Assistance Office: 610-447-5500
• PACE program: 800-225-7223
• LiHeap (Utilities): 610-447-3099
• COSA’s Senior Supper Program: 610-490-1220 or 610-490-1300 or 1-800-4164504 or e-mailCOSA@co.delaware.pa.us
• Meals on Wheels of Delaware County: 610-566-0756 (Serving Clifton Heights, Haverford Twp., East Lansdowne, Lansdowne, Media, Marple Twp., Newtown Twp., Upper Darby Twp., Darby, Yeadon, Ridley Park and Ridley Township)
• Main Line Meals on Wheels: 610-688-8170 (Serving Radnor Twp.)
• Aston Meals on Wheels: 610-494-3534 (Serving Aston Twp., Brookhaven, Green Ridge, Parkside, Upland)
• Kosher Meals on Wheels (Beth El Ner Jamed): 610-356-7178 (Serving Delaware County east of Middletown Twp.)