New data that show the cost of a meal in Kansas City is higher than in most of the rest of the region — and rising — has Harvesters officials concerned they won’t be able to keep pace with need and seniors will go hungry.
Harvesters is a regional food bank that is part of a nationwide nonprofit called Feeding America that compiled and analyzed the data.
Feeding America found that the average cost of a meal in the 26-county area surrounding Kansas City that Harvesters serves was $2.89. Only Colorado’s average cost was higher, at $3.09. The average cost was lower in Oklahoma ($2.82), Nebraska ($2.77), Illinois ($2.72), Arkansas ($2.72) and Iowa ($2.67).
The average cost rose from last year to this year in every state except Arkansas, where it stayed the same. Harvesters spokeswoman Sarah Biles said those increases hit seniors particularly hard because of their fixed incomes.
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“We know when seniors don’t have access to enough nutritious food, that can limit their ability to live independently longer,” Biles said. “That also leads to chronic health issues ... particularly diabetes and high blood pressure.”
Biles said she didn’t know why prices were higher in Kansas City than elsewhere in the region.
Elizabeth Jordan, who was filling a cart with Harvesters food in a common room of the Cardinal Ridge Manor senior living complex Thursday, said she didn’t need new studies to know what grocery prices are doing.
“They are high,” Jordan said. “I go from store to store to try and catch everything running on sale.”
Harvesters operates mobile food pantries that bring fresh produce and eggs twice a month to places where seniors live, like Cardinal Ridge Manor, which is part of the Cardinal Ridge Apartments.
Ginger White, president of the tenants association at Cardinal Ridge, said the need is obvious.
“Everyone in here is on a limited income, and we have a number of people who have serious health issues and their medications are tremendously expensive,” White said.
Seniors already make up 20 percent of the estimated 141,500 hungry people Harvesters serves each month, and with the senior population expected to almost double in the Kansas City metro area in the next 20 years, Biles said government assistance programs like food stamps and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program will become even more important.
“I think our basic concern is that feeding seniors — feeding anyone — is not something the nonprofit sector can do on its own,” Biles said. “We just don’t have the capacity to do that. There needs to be a partnership with strong federal nutrition programs.”