Today is National Hunger Awareness Day : Let’s look at senior hunger in America and how you can help.

by Lindsay Felsing, LLMSW, Director of Economic Security

One in six seniors in America face hunger every day. Food insecurity among seniors continues to grow: rates of senior hunger increased by nearly 6% from 2011-2013. In 2014, 7 million seniors relied on local food banks to put food on the table. One-third of seniors facing hunger have a disability and nearly one in five live with their grandchildren. Many struggling older adults also provide support to their extended families.

Low-income seniors often have to make decisions between paying for food and paying for medications or health care. Hunger has profound and negative implications for health and wellbeing including increased risk of chronic health conditions like depression, heart attack, asthma, and congestive heart failure.

By 2025, the number of seniors facing hunger is projected to increase by 50%. This is a frightening statistic, but there is help available. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides monthly benefits to eligible households that can be used to buy food and seeds for use in gardens at participating grocery stores. Many farmers markets also accept SNAP benefits and many participate in Double Up Food Bucks, a program that doubles the value of SNAP benefits when buying locally grown fruits and vegetables. This year, Double Up Food Bucks will be available at some grocery stores as well. This program provides healthy incentives for SNAP recipients to purchase fruits and vegetables.

Unfortunately, three out of five (an astounding 60%!) of eligible older adults do not apply for SNAP benefits that could help them put food on the table, make ends meet, and improve their quality of life. So, why don’t eligible older adults apply for SNAP? There are many reasons why older adults who are eligible for SNAP do not apply. Stigma, lack of information, misinformation regarding eligibility, limited mobility, lack of transportation, and a complicated application process are just a few of the barriers that contribute to low participation among older adults.

Michigan's Coordinated Access to Food for the Elderly logoOur MiCAFE (Michigan’s Coordinated Access to Food for the Elderly) program was created in 2001 to address these barriers and increase access to SNAP for eligible older adults, thereby reducing senior hunger and its effects, through outreach, education, and application assistance in the community. MiCAFE is a diverse, collaborative network of over 120 community-based organizations including Area Agencies on Aging, Departments and Councils on Aging, senior centers, senior housing, faith-based organizations, and community centers. Our collective goal is to reduce senior hunger and make sure older Michiganians do not have to make tough choices like paying for food or paying for medications by making it easy to apply for SNAP and other benefits in a supportive environment.

Four of every five seniors served by the MiCAFE Network are found eligible for SNAP benefits. These seniors receive an average monthly benefit of $113 to buy food. Since 2011, MiCAFE Network-assisted seniors have received food assistance resources to purchase over 11 million meals that they would not have been able to otherwise afford.

Mary, from Jackson, is one of these seniors:

Living with a disability and with no transportation, Mary from Jackson, MI, needed food assistance, but it was impossible for maryher to get to the Department of Human Services to apply for SNAP. She struggled monthly to find enough money for food. Mary attended a MiCAFE presentation at her apartment complex and immediately scheduled a phone appointment. Our staff completed Mary’s SNAP application over the phone and then scheduled a home visit with her to finalize the application. 

Mary began receiving her benefits shortly after. She shared that our application assistants “have been compassionate and caring, listening and helping her in any way they can.”  She said, “The fact that MiCAFE was willing to come to her was instrumental in her getting the food assistance she needed.” 

Before receiving SNAP benefits, Mary had to be extremely careful when buying groceries. She often passed over fruits, vegetables and meat, foods she needed to stay healthy because she simply couldn’t afford them. After applying for food assistance through MiCAFE and receiving SNAP benefits, Mary found that she could afford to purchase fruits, vegetables and meat on a regular basis. As a result, she now eats a balanced, healthy diet.

So, how can you help? If you or someone you know is having a hard time making ends meet or putting food on the table, call MiCAFE at 1-877-664-2233. Help us get the word out that help is available by volunteering or becoming a part of the MiCAFE Network. For more information, contact Lindsay Felsing at lfelsing@elderlawofmi.org.

MiCAFE Community Partners and Staff of Southeastern Michigan, Lunch and Learn at Ukrainian Cultural Center
MiCAFE Community Partners and Staff of Southeastern Michigan, Lunch and Learn at Ukrainian Cultural Center

MiCAFE is supported by the United States Department of Agriculture, Michigan Department of Human Services, Office of Services to the Aging, and the National Council on Aging. MiCAFE partners with community based organizations to conduct outreach and provide application assistance for the State of Michigan Food Assistance Program and other benefits. If you would like more information on how to become a MiCAFE partner, please call the MiCAFE Call Center at 1-877-664-2233.


Lindsay FelsingLindsay Felsing is the Director of Economic Security at Elder Law of Michigan, and has been a member of the Elder Law team since January 2011.

 Lindsay holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Michigan State University, and graduated with her Master of Social Work in 2010 from the University of Michigan.

 Before joining the Elder Law of Michigan team, she worked as a Patient Resource Coordinator at the American Cancer Society, helping cancer patients and their families navigate the healthcare system and locate needed resources, and as a graduate therapist at the Women’s Center of Southeastern Michigan, providing counseling for individuals and groups on a wide-range of issues. She also served as an English Teacher in Thailand through the Council on International Educational Exchange. As Director of Economic Security at ELM, Lindsay oversees MiCAFE and Project Healthy Living, programs intended to increase access to food assistance, other key benefits, and nutrition education for older adults in partnership with the Michigan Department of Human Services and over 125 community-based organizations across the state.

 Since beginning at Elder Law of Michigan, Lindsay has managed several successful grants from the USDA and National Council on Aging intended to increase access to benefits for older adults in underserved areas of Michigan. Additionally, Lindsay oversaw a special initiative to facilitate outreach and enrollment of intergenerational households with an elder in Southeastern Michigan in the food assistance program and other key benefits as a strategy to improve the health and financial stability of the households.

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