By Heather Mullinix
Nearly one in five seniors may be going hungry in Tennessee, according to the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger.
The study found the percentage of seniors facing the threat of hunger in Tennessee was 18.79 percent in 2011, the latest year which data is available.
"I feel this is an indictment on every community in the state if we have seniors going hungry," said Mickey Eldridge, executive director of Cumberland Good Samaritans and a member of the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability representing the Upper Cumberland Area, and the Area Agency on Aging and Disability. "The community has a responsibility and cannot ignore this kind of unmet need where seniors or children are concerned."
The issue of hunger among senior citizens is especially important in Cumberland County, which leads the state in percentage of population age 65 or older at 27.8 percent.
To combat senior hunger and ensure members of the older generation are able to get enough food to keep them in good health, Cumberland Good Samaritans has joined forces with Food City grocery stores in Crossville and Fairfield Glade to raise funds for the senior care feeding program of Cumberland Good Samartians.
Through the month of March, patrons can add $10 to their shopping bill to donate enough food for three meals to area seniors who are in food crisis. Cumberland Good Samaritans will match those $10 donations, so every donation will provide six meals to hungry seniors in this community. Each Food City location will have designated collection barrels.
"We've known for years this was an issue in our community," Eldridge said. "We started this program a number of years ago to address the unmet needs of senior citizens in our community who are experiencing food crisis."
She thanked Food City for their long-time support of the program, noting the business had been a partner in the feeding program since its inception more than ten years ago.
She also thanked Crossville First Baptist Church, which has agreed to host monthly food distributions and provide volunteers. They, along with volunteers who have long participated in the program from community civic organizations, churches and youth organizations, will assist seniors in supplementing their food pantries and be able to talk with them about other unmet needs that senior may be experiencing.
Many times, Eldridge noted seniors in need of food assistance are identified when they have come to the locally funded direct and social services agency for help paying higher-than-normal heating bills or affording life-sustaining medications.
"Many of these seniors are children of the Great Depression," Eldridge said. "The are used to sacrificing. They know what it's like to do without food. Now, many seniors are in financial crisis and are faced with family moving back in or are raising their grandchildren or great-grandchildren. They're willing to go without food so that their family can eat.
"Often, they won't ask for help with food, but they're living on fixed incomes and relying almost solely on Social Security."
The staff at Cumberland Good Samaritans pre-qualifies seniors to take part in the monthly food distributions. Seniors who would like to talk with the agency about needs they are experiencing may stop by the office at 281 Tenth St. or call 484-3225.
The monthly feeding program is in need of financial support and volunteer support, Eldridge said. It costs $1,000 to purchase a tractor-trailer of food from Second Harvest of East Tennessee. Close to another $1,000 is needed to purchase food to supplement those staples with canned vegetables and fruits. In-season fresh produce is also offered, when available. Local food drives, such as the May U.S. Postal Service Stamp Out Hunger and the October food drives in local schools, also supplement the Cumberland Good Samaritans food pantry to combat hunger in this community.
In addition, Eldridge noted the senior care feeding program, and the many other programs of Cumberland Good Samaritans, would not be possible without the support of businesses and individuals in the community who provide financial support or those who donate to and shop at the Cumberland Good Samaritans Thrift Store. The thrift store is the major source of revenue for the organization, which receives no state or federal funding.
"This spring, as you're spring cleaning your closets and attics, think Good Samaritans first to donate your unwanted items to," Eldridge said. "And, it's also time for the seasonal change in merchandise. When you go shopping for clothes or spring and summer items, remember to think Good Samaritans first."