Do we really care about senior adults?

First, a disclaimer: I’ve never experienced life as an “old” person. Like many of my fellow young Americans, I do not ponder what life will be like at 80. Though firsthand experience of old age escapes me, startling statistics around the issue of senior hunger should be enough to raise eyebrows.

The Meals on Wheels Association of America found that 8.3 million seniors faced the threat of hunger, while one in seven faced some form of food insecurity. In 2005, one in nine seniors faced food insecurity. These seniors were not the poorest either, as those who faced the threat of hunger had incomes above the federal poverty line. Food insecurity among senior adults has not improved, and shows no signs of improvement.

Engaging senior hunger requires more than creating a food bank or even participating in Meals on Wheels. Hunger requires a multifaceted approach, one that begins with reevaluating how the younger adults perceive seniors, and how seniors perceive younger adults. Within any congregations there’s likely to be remarkable misconceptions about both age groups. Preconceived notions and misconceptions will hardly be dispelled by a good, old-fashioned round table discussion.

Instead, a culture of cooperation must be created, one that values the unique gifts of both age groups. While I realize that this is easier said than done, one way to begin the work is by helping each party arrive at a location that realizes our futures are bound up in one another. How I, a young adult, care for seniors now will inevitably affect how I am cared for when I age.

This assumes, however, that congregations will want to invite this conversation. When the pathways of justice are sauntered upon we discover new ways of doing life together. Some call this “change,” but in reality we are discovering new life. Conversations, alone, will not positively affect senior hunger. Systemic, structural action must be engaged.

One area of difficulty for many seniors arises when they attempt to access support such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The applications can be lengthy and convoluted. Perhaps our congregations could hold workshops to assist in the completion of such forms and applications. Moreover, creating ritualized experiences within our worship services that help all of us to remember food insecurity for those who, daily, go without.

Ideas, plans, and committees can be formed around food insecurity, but no substantive progress will be made as long as neither old nor young cease talking past one another. We can solve more than food insecurity issues if we are willing to see that each party provides unique gifts and opportunities for growth and transformation.

Young and old alike, the issue of food insecurity for all will not resolve itself. Whether writing representatives in Congress, increasing the reach and donations to food banks, or holding workshops to pursue benefits opportunities exist for the alleviation of hunger. No person, young or old, should go hungry. That’s one principle that stretches across generations, and may bring us closer together.

Zachary Bailes

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Bailes holds a Master of Divinity from Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He is the Editor of Crazy Liberals and Conservatives, a website dedicated to engaging the intersection of faith and public life.

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