The Leader’s readers enjoy living in some of the most desirable areas in Houston. Still, these communities are old by Houston’s standards, and more than a few of the original residents are aging along with them. This vulnerable population often lives on a fixed income falling well below the national average. The number of local seniors trying to survive in poverty is, at best, alarming.
According to Healthcare CEO, an agency dedicated to the study of healthcare in Texas, 43 percent of Houston’s senior households have incomes less than $30k, and 23 percent of the city’s residents 60 and older qualified for food stamps last year. Even with help, can these members of our community afford to pay their bills – and still eat?
In many cases, the answer is “no,” but the Houston Food Bank is stepping in to help. The agency is working to provide additional assistance to Houston’s senior citizens through increased distribution of its free Senior Box Program.
The Houston Food Bank is the country’s largest, and won “Feeding America’s” Food Bank of the Year in 2015. Founded in 1982, the nonprofit agency serves about 800,000 men, women and children annually in Harris and surrounding counties.
Houston Food Bank’s successful Senior Box Program is designed to improve nutrition for income-eligible seniors, 60 and above. The federally-funded effort distributes Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) items from the USDA, managed by the Texas Department of Agriculture.
Seniors receive monthly food boxes containing non-perishable vegetables and fruit, cereal, pasta, a two-pound block of cheese, and protein such as non-perishable tuna, chili, and stew. The Houston Food Bank often adds fresh produce, to the delight of its clients. The average box is valued at about $50 and, at the time of this writing, 12,106 Harris County seniors benefit from the program each month.
“We are looking for additional distribution sites in the near north, sites such as multi-service centers, senior living facilities, churches and similar locations from which to distribute,” says Kathy Lipman, Senior Box Manager with Houston Food Bank. “We can’t offer individual, door-to-door delivery, so we schedule distributions sites once a month, and our seniors or their family members, meet us there. Since our staff handles all aspects of processing and distributing, it’s easy for a site to host our service.”
Some seniors in the program developed “coping strategies” prior to the help offered by the box program. Statistics report that 40 percent watered down food to “stretch it out.” About 52 percent reported consuming expired food rather than face the expense of buying fresh. An alarming 63 percent of Texas seniors sometimes forgo eating altogether, choosing to buy life-saving medications instead.
“Our seniors are so grateful for the help. We get big hugs all the time, making it very rewarding for us too,” Lipman continued. “Each box weighs about 30 pounds, but it is remarkable how creative our clients get when it comes to moving the boxes to their apartments or cars. It they are in a wheelchair, they put the box on their laps and wheel away. Some load them onto the seats of their walkers. Others use a piece of luggage with wheels on it to haul the items. It’s amazing to see. I think that’s what hunger does – it’s a formidable motivator,” Lipman concluded.
Citizens age 60 and above interested in applying for the Senior Box Program may apply in person at a location near them. If an individual is unable to apply in person, he or she can send a representative. A list of sites and hours can be found at www.houstonfoodbank.org/seniorbox
Anyone with a location that would be appropriate as a distribution site is encouraged to call Houston Food Bank’s Senior Box Program offices at 832-369-9390, or email Klipman@houstonfoodbank.org. There is no charge for the service.