Let’s start with some numbers. A study published by Hunger Solutions Minnesota says that 15.5 percent of seniors faced the threat of hunger in the United States in 2013. Hunger Solutions also found that in Minnesota in 2014, “there were 263,386 food-shelf visits by seniors. While senior visits are the lowest percentage of food shelf service, seniors’ needs for food assistance have greatly increased”. That’s up 13 percent from 2013.
Last December, Minnetonka-based Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Minneapolis (JFCS) partnered with MAZON’s Solutions to Senior Hunger, receiving a $30,000 grant to help boost their outreach programming aimed at helping food-insecure seniors, focusing on the west metro.
Clare Gravon was hired as the Solutions to Senior Hunger Coordinator at JFCS to conduct Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) outreach, targeting seniors who are eligible, but for a number of reasons, don’t apply. “They partly don’t understand this program and what they’re eligible for. They are put off by administrative hurdles, and I can help them get past that first hurdle,” Gravon says. “There’s also the stigma of accepting any kind of benefit, including what use to be referred to as ‘food stamps.’ ”
JFCS has taken advantage of its existing partnership with PRISM, a food shelf/thrift store, to increase its impact. “Each [Jewish Family Service agency] has its own community partner infrastructure that is used to support their outreach,” explains Gravon.
JFCS’ two-pronged approach includes going out and meeting seniors where they are, in addition to working with community partners and activists. Giving presentations at low-income senior center apartment buildings, distributing flyers, helping seniors fill out applications one-on-one, and training community member are all part of Gravon’s repertoire. “I’m still looking to make connections with community partners at hospitals, with police and firefighters,” she says. “[They] have that intimate knowledge about who may be struggling in their communities. I want them to know that there’s a resource in the community.”