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Food bank program focuses on seniors

February 4, 2019

West Texas Food Bank officials foresee a strong growth of need in the community as more households with senior citizens continue to struggle with food security.

“The numbers that we’re seeing serving our elderly in the last six months have just skyrocketed and so we’re really lucky that we were able to get the Senior Box program started Oct. 1,” WTFB Executive Director Libby Campbell said.

The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), also known as the Senior Box program, provides critical support for low-income seniors, age 60 and older, that are consuming fewer calories and lower quantities of key nutrients. The program provides monthly assistance by giving out boxes packed with U.S. Department of Agriculture commodities and shelf-stable items to supplement seniors’ diets.

Aside from age and residency, registered clients must meet income requirements to qualify for the program. Total household earnings must be at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty guideline to receive services, about $1,316 a month for an individual, the WTFB website stated.

WTFB Director of Marketing and Communications Craig Stoker said in a message Thursday that about 1,000 boxes a month were being distributed at 20 sites across the 19 counties they serve. The goal is to reach 2,000 individuals with the program.

Although the cost of the food is reimbursed by the Texas Department of Agriculture, WTFB must absorb expenses related to the actual boxes in which the food is distributed to clients, fuel and personnel costs,” their website stated.

The food bank also has two local pantries stocked with fresh produce, meats, breads and dairy. The Client Choice Pantry in the Odessa facility is open three days a week. The Senior Client Choice Pantry in the Midland facility is open twice a month, specifically for the senior population.

Meals on Wheels Executive Director Margaret Burton said food security, housing costs and access to transportation are some of the most pressing, interconnecting issues for the elderly population in Odessa.

“This rent is outrageous and landlords have no sympathy for the elderly even if they’ve lived there for years,” Burton said. “Times are good but social security doesn’t go up (during an oil boom).”

Burton explained that rent hikes when the economy is thriving often leave seniors that are living off of a fixed income with even less funds to cover the basics. She said local food pantries are doing their best, but without a means of transportation or delivery options many seniors cannot fully utilize all of those services.

“There’s this dark side of every boom,” Stoker said. “You’ve got seniors taking medicine every three days because they can’t afford to take it every day. They’re being pushed out of their homes. That’s heartbreaking.”

Stoker said the WTFB has a case worker on staff that helps residents find resources beyond food aid.

“This gives us the ability to help them get through our cost of living that we’re seeing right now in West Texas,” Campbell said. “We’re finding ways to not only get them fed but also to connect them with other nonprofits in the community to help with their needs as far as property taxes, helping them with rent or utilities.”

The Texas Demographic Center estimates population aging trends will reach their peak over the next two decades with the influx of the baby-boom generation, those born between 1946 and 1964, approaching retirement age. By 2030, members of the generational cohort will be at least 65 years old.

Burton said addressing issues that face the senior population will continue to be a challenge with fewer nonprofit volunteers and the growing number of seniors that will need services. Meals on Wheels averages about 545 meal deliveries a week for Odessa seniors and adults with disabilities. Burton said the number of applicants often increases around the holidays after family visits reveal living conditions of senior loved ones.

Campbell said she anticipates an increase of need in 2019 from the aging population and hopes to make an impact with the Senior Box program so that seniors are not choosing between groceries and medication.

“We want to make sure the WTFB is in the best position to meet the needs of our community and that is by working with and leveraging every resource we have out here to make that happen,” Campbell said.

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