Gordon Lambdin has worked as a mechanic his whole life. He and his father started a garage in 1960 and Gordon worked on cars there until he fell and broke his hip last year.
“That was the bad one,” He says, “I quit breathing 4 or 5 times ”
Now he has trouble getting around and can no longer drive. He lives frugally and has to eat a lot of prepared meals.
“If it weren’t for a can opener and a microwave I’d starve to death,” he says.
He uses a patchwork of resources to get through each month. His children help him when they can, he qualifies to receive some food assistance, and he gets hot meals twice a week from the Mercy Shelter.
People who need help can come here and pick up food.
The shelter also delivers meals, including about 400 a month to Orange County residents.
Jim White is the director of the Mercy Shelter in Paoli, he says that many of the people receiving food deliveries are the elderly who have neither the money nor access to transportation to get food themselves.
“I would say 85 percent of the people we deliver to really need to have a meal delivered to them,” White says.
Research shows when people don’t have access to transportation they’re about twice as likely to suffer from food insecurity. While the number of elderly people facing food insecurity has been on rise for the past 15 years, senior citizens have fared far worse than the rest of the population.
According to Feeding America, three million elderly Americans can be labeled “food insecure.” Those numbers are up by around a half million seniors since the 2008 recession. It’s not an issues that’s unique to rural areas.
Chrissy Petersen is the Interim Executive Director of Westminster Neighborhood Services in Indianapolis. She has been helping elderly who are in need on the city’s east side for more than a decade.
She says there is no one culprit, rather a series of challenges seniors face.
“The doctor visits are more often and more expensive,” Petersen says. “Food cost are just now starting to come down, food stamps haven’t increased, cost of living hasn’t increased.”
Transportation is also part of problem.
“When you don’t have transportation or money for bus passes you go to the gas stations, the non-traditional places so most of the stuff they are eating isn’t healthy.”
But it isn’t just an issue of the quality of food. According to Feeding America, seniors who face food insecurity are at increased risk for many ailments, including a 53 percent increase for heart failure.
Amy O’Brien is the Nutrition Outreach Coordinator at Area 10 Agency on Aging in Bloomington. She says the combination of being low income, having low mobility and little access to transportation leaves many seniors in a dangerous place, and not just physically.
“There is also a family structure issue, people are so isolated that a lot of our clients don’t have family or friends that are kind of picking up that slack that historically someone else would have,” O’Brien says.
It all takes a toll, as Lambdin can attest.
He’s frustrated that he has to rely on charity to survive and he misses the days when he felt like he was independent and in control.
“At first it kind of works on you and you feel ashamed because you can’t keep up with the things you used to. And you know the end is coming but you don’t know when. There’s things you’d like to experience and things you’d like to eat and this that and the other that you don’t do anymore or can’t do anymore.”
That is a struggle more and more seniors will face in the near future. As baby boomers age and live longer, they outgrow their retirement. Feeding America anticipates seniors facing hunger will increase by 50 percent within the next decade.