Senior Hunger Exists in Our Neighborhoods

This month, I’d like to present an Interview with Krista Lucchesi director of the Mercy Brown Bag Program.

Q. Krista, what is the status of the elderly and their ability to have balanced, healthy meals every day?

A. Imagine how hard it is to find yourself at 80 years old having to phone a helpline to figure out how to survive? Now, imagine if you had to answer that phone more than 12,000 times this year, hearing story after story of seniors on the other end of the phone asking for help? What if you could reduce those senior’s chance of developing asthma, experiencing depression, or having a heart attack by half? Every day, I see seniors in our Mercy Brown Bag Program that have to decide if they will eat or buy their medicine, transportation, utilities or rent.

The seniors in our neighborhoods are pleading for help. They called Alameda County Food Bank’s helpline more than 12,000 times in 2013.

Q. What are we doing locally to address this?

A. Mercy Brown Bag Program coordinates the distribution of nutritious groceries to low-income seniors in Alameda County. Even though we distributed more than 52,500 grocery bags last year, we need to grow because of growing need. The National Foundation to End Senior Hunger reported "from 2001 to 2011, the percentage of seniors experiencing hunger increased by an astonishing 88 percent." And if food insecurity and poverty trends continue, by 2025, the number of food-insecure seniors will increase by another 50 percent.

Q. How does this impact Alameda elderly in Alameda County?

A. A study conducted this year shows that Alameda County residents over 50 years old now make up more than one-third (36 percent) of local food bank clients. The combination of high cost of living and fewer resources for low-income residents is forcing people to make difficult choices to get by including:

• More than half of client households (52 percent) chose between paying for food and paying for medicine/medical care in the past 12 months. 16 percent faced this choice every month.

• Nearly half of client households (46 percent) chose between paying for food and paying rent/mortgage. One-in-five (21 percent) faced this choice every month.

• More than half of client households chose between paying for food and paying for utilities. Nearly one-third (29 percent) faced this choice every month.

The direct links between health and adequate nutrition cannot be overstated. Food insecurity is directly linked to chronic conditions. This Hunger Study’s key findings include:

• Nearly one-in-five (18 percent) report at least one member of their household is in poor health

• One-in-five households (21 percent) have a member with diabetes

• 39 percent of households have a member with high blood pressure

• More than one-quarter of households (27 percent) have outstanding medical bills to pay, while one-third (33 percent) lack health insurance of any kind.

These seniors face bigger consequences than just an empty stomach. Food insecure seniors are 60 percent more likely to experience depression, 53 percent more likely to report a heart attack and 52 percent more likely to develop asthma.

These men and women have contributed greatly to our society. Seniors bring experience and wisdom and can offer continuity and context to enrich the lives of those who are younger. We strive to keep them healthy and engaged, and then they continue to help us all thrive.

Since 1982, Mercy Retirement and Care Center has sponsored The Mercy Brown Bag Program for Alameda County.

Kristine Watson is the general manager of Comfort Keepers, providing home health services to seniors and their families. She can be reached at 239-4391 or ck942@