Health beat: A search to find hungry seniors

  • Article by: WARREN WOLFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 24, 2012 - 9:53 AM

Feeding frail older people has been part of the Roseville Senior Center mission for all of its 35 years, with the Meals on Wheels program serving about 200 people in their homes and lunches for others at the center.

But over the past year, the center's outreach workers have been asking probing questions about food, and they've found that some older residents go hungry.

The center is among more than 300 partners launching a statewide campaign this week to encourage people in need -- families, the newly unemployed and older Minnesotans -- to sign up for food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

About 65 percent of eligible Minnesotans sign up for food stamps, but only about 40 percent of those 65 and older enroll, state estimates show.

"For the generation that grew up with the Great Depression and World War II, asking for help can be particularly difficult, a matter of pride and honor," said Janelle Wampler, program director at the center.

"For many older people in need, their family is their safety net," she added. "But sometimes, it's easier to ask us for help than ask the daughter."

After seniors get help with transportation, social contact and other needs from the center, "sometimes they'll open up to us when finances get really tight," Wampler said.

People qualify if they earn up to 165 percent of the poverty guideline, about $1,498 a month for one or $2,023 for two. The average monthly benefit is $118.

"We're seeing a slight increase in people asking us for help to sign up," Wampler said. That may be partly because the weak economy has cut into the value of their homes and retirement savings, "but also, I hope, because we're doing a more effective job of offering help."

For more information about food stamps and other support, contact the State Food Support website at www.startribune.com/a941, the Minnesota Food Helpline at 1-888-711-1151 or the Senior LinkAge Line at 1-800-333-2433.

wolfe@startribune.com. • 612-673-7253

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