Food vouchers aim to stave off hunger among LGBT elderly

Two major community-service organizations are joining forces to battle hunger among financially disadvantaged members of the LGBT community.

William Way LGBT Community Center and the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging combined PCA’s annual distribution of Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program produce vouchers with presentations on nutrition and available resources for needy LGBT seniors on July 20. The event, called “HomeGrown,” was held at the John C. Anderson Apartments in Center City.

“It’s definitely a big problem, especially in Philadelphia,” said David Griffith, director of Programs and Outreach for the LGBT Elder Initiative. “In this city, about 40 percent of seniors are living in poverty, which makes Philadelphia one of the poorest cities in the country in terms of older Americans living below the poverty line. One in four local LGBT elders faces some sort of food insecurity at some point.”

Ed Miller, senior programs coordinator for the William Way Center, cited a recent local survey the center conducted of LGBT seniors. “We learned that many skip a meal each day and don’t eat enough food to maintain optimum health. We do try to educate seniors about the many food programs offered in Philadelphia. At the John C. Anderson Apartments, we help to combat barriers to healthy food by providing monthly transportation to two grocery stores and plan to add trips to Fresh for All, a no-cost farmer’s market.”

More than 5.4-million Americans over the age of 60 faced food insecurity in 2015, according to a report by Feeding America, a national anti-hunger organization. That amounts to 8 percent of all seniors nationwide, a number that will only increase as the youngest Baby Boomers reach 60 in 2025.

LGBT seniors are almost twice as likely to live in poverty and experience food insecurity than the general population. Fifteen percent of single gay men in the U.S. over age 65 live under the poverty line, as opposed to only 9.7 percent of similarly aged single straight men, according to SAGE, a national LGBT elder-advocacy group. An estimated 6 percent of lesbian couples over 65 live in poverty compared to 3 percent of straight couples. In addition, LGBT older adults are 20-percent less likely than other adults to access government programs such as housing assistance, meal programs, food stamps and senior centers.

Events such as “HomeGrown” are part of a multifaceted strategy elder advocates are employing to solve these problems. 

“What we are doing is trying to connect elders with resources and programs available to them,” said Griffith. “For example, PCA’s Farmer’s Market Voucher program is one such resource. Another resource we try to connect people with is the city’s network of senior centers, most of which offer some sort of nutritional assistance to needy elders.”

Miller is a big believer in tackling the problem from a number of different angles simultaneously, because the obstacles facing poorer LGBT seniors can get complicated. “It’s not just a matter of not having enough to eat. Some elders have limited mobility, don’t have access to transportation and aren’t near shopping centers or grocery stores or farmer’s markets.”

The “HomeGrown” event reflected the multifaceted-problem-solving approach. While the main focus was on PCA’s voucher program, representatives of several different organizations were there to disseminate information on resources for elder food insecurity. One was the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, with information about SNAP (food stamps) and farmer’s markets, and the Marconi Older Adult Program, a South Philly senior center that offers numerous nutritional-assistance programs for seniors.

PCA’s Farmer’s Market voucher program is an ongoing effort beyond “HomeGrown.” PCA will continue to offer the vouchers as long as they last. The program was designed to help qualifying seniors supplement their diet with fresh fruits and vegetables. Those who qualify can get a voucher worth $20 that can be redeemed for fresh produce at participating farmer’s markets in and around Philadelphia. To qualify, a person must be over 60 and have an income below certain limits, depending on how large your family is.

“I know it doesn’t seem like much,” said PCA spokesperson Marcia Siegal of the $20 vouchers. “It doesn’t solve the problem, but it’s an important addition. It helps. That’s what’s important.”