The National Response to Senior Hunger
In March 2008, the Meals On Wheels Association of America Foundation (MOWAAF), now known as the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (NFESH), made public a groundbreaking research study entitled “The Causes, Consequences, and Future of Senior Hunger in America.” The MOWAAF-sponsored study, which was underwritten by the Harrah’s Foundation, was officially released at a hearing of the U. S. Special Committee on Aging in Washington, DC, on March 5. Conducted by Co-Principal Investigators James P. Ziliak, Ph.D., Gatton Endowed Chair in Microeconomics and Director of the Center for Poverty Research, University of Kentucky and Craig Gundersen, Ph.D., then Associate Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Iowa State University, the work was groundbreaking because it was the most comprehensive national research study to look exclusively at senior hunger in the United States.
In fact, renowned economist Dr. Eugene Smolensky, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, characterizes it as a “first class report. . .using up to the minute methodology and the latest available data, which finally takes us beyond anecdote, and small and partial studies, to a reliable picture of [senior] hunger nationwide.” Tragically, the reliable picture that the study paints is both clear and disturbing. It finds senior hunger to be a national problem of dramatic proportion. Today in America 1 in 9 seniors— an astonishing 5 million people—is at risk of hunger. And the situation is likely to worsen significantly if we do not act.
Here is what else we learned from the study: Hunger is neither confined to one age cohort among the elderly, nor one ethnic or racial group, nor one geographic location. It is national in scope and incidence. And we believe that, just as the problem is not confined to one group or entity, neither is the solution. A multi-faceted national problem requires a multi-sectored national solution. That is why the Meals On Wheels Association of America (MOWAA), MOWAAF and its long-time supporting partner Harrah’s Foundation are launching a national initiative that we are naming “The National Response to Senior Hunger.”
Our collective belief that a strategically planned “response” to the problem of senior hunger is needed is not new. In fact, as part of her testimony at the Senate hearing where the study was released, Harrah’s Senior Vice President Jan Jones described our collaborative vision of a corporate response to hunger. Since that hearing, however, as America has experienced the gas crisis and seen food costs skyrocket, we have seen the devastating impact of these prices on MOW programs and the seniors they serve. At the same time, we have witnessed widespread media coverage of the issue. MOWAA and its Member programs have benefitted substantially from it, as well as from the generosity and expertise of our corporate friends. As a result, MOWAA and Harrah’s have come to realize that we need to expand our effort even beyond our original vision of involving the corporate sector alone to assist us in our fight against senior hunger.
To be successful and to accomplish MOWAA’s mission that “. . .no senior goes hungry”® —which we firmly believe should be America’s mission― we need to formulate a formal, serious and concerted multi-sectored national effort. That is “The National Response to Senior Hunger.”