The people who frequent the Lord’s Table sip coffee or juice with snacks and socialize with each other before volunteers serve them a healthy lunch — often with seconds — in the basement of Trinity United Methodist Church.
We’ve come to know these folks like family as well as their likes, dislikes and dietary needs. Meals are also specially prepared for vegetarians, people who don’t eat pork, those wanting all vegetables or none at all.
People aren’t bashful about asking, and the volunteers, including my partner Bette and I, do our best to serve. Many of the regulars at the Lord’s Table at 620 E. Armour Blvd. are like the people described in the recent Feeding America report, “Baby Boomers and Beyond: Facing Hunger After Fifty.”
They are food insecure, or people with limited or uncertain access to an adequate amount of food. “Between 2001 and 2012, the percentage of adults age 60 and older who are food insecure increased by 66 percent, and the number of food insecure seniors increased by 130 percent,” the report said.
What’s also telling is the “pre-senior” crowd — people age 50 to 59 — tend to suffer more from hunger than those age 60 and above, the report said. The younger group is “more likely to be food insecure, to have household incomes below the federal poverty line and to have unpaid medical bills” compared with older Americans.
The Feeding America network of food banks, food pantries, kitchens, shelters and other charitable feeding programs annually provides food assistance to 13 million older adults age 50 and up — 6 million are ages 50 to 59. Also telling is the poverty rate “decreases considerably as the age of the adult member(s) increases.” That’s partly because of Social Security and Medicare.
The report notes that people who regularly depend on meals at soup kitchens like the Lord’s Table or food pantries are best able to overcome food insecurity.
“Households that regularly plan to seek charitable food assistance are less likely than their counterparts to incur unpaid medical bills or to resort to a strategy of buying the cheapest food available, knowing it was not the healthiest option,” the report said. As the population ages, though, food insecurity is expected to grow.
By 2050, the U.S. population will be close to 400 million, and baby boomers born from 1946 to 1964 are expected to live longer. By 2050, people age 65 and older will number 84 million, nearly doubling the current size. In the next 20 years, about 10,000 persons each day will turn age 65. They will go from 15 percent of the population to more than 20 percent, and many aren’t expected to have any savings for retirement.
The median income for people age 45 to 54 is $38,643 compared with $24,644 for those ages 65 to 74. Average monthly Social Security benefits of $1,334 in 2013 amounted to at least half of the total income for 65 percent of adults age 65 and older. For 24 percent of the population, Social Security was their sole source of support.
More older people also are homeless. “The number of homeless individuals age 65 and older is expected to double from nearly 44,200 in 2010 to an estimated 95,000 in 2050,” the report says.
Charitable food sources help, but they can’t keep up with the existing demand or the growth. More people age 50 and older who qualify for federal food programs need to take advantage of them. Older people caring for grandkids also should get more resources.
The report points to the need for a greater public-private effort to strengthen anti-hunger programs and to improve the savings, job training and education for younger workers to avoid this trap of aging. Doing nothing only ensures that things will get worse.