IN THE NEWS: Sun Sentinel features JFS, MAZON partnership to help hungry seniors

Randall P. Lieberman

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Nov 13, 2014

An alarming numbers of U.S. senior citizens (including many throughout the tri-county area) are either unaware of — or ignore — governmental support they are eligible for to get the food they need to alleviate their hunger and stay healthy..

This issue has reached a critical point as 10,000 "Baby Boomers" turn 65 every day with 56 percent of U.S. retirees having outstanding debt. One in three seniors is "food insecure" ("having limited access to adequate food") and/or disabled. Thirty percent must choose between food and medicine.

According to Abby Leibman, president/CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, one in six seniors lives in poverty and 65 percent of seniors eligible for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) funds do not use them.

MAZON is the only national Jewish organization focused exclusively on issues of hunger and is considered one of the leading anti-hunger organizations in the U.S.

Leibman said: "There are a number of reasons seniors are not taking advantage of this help. Too often, it's a reluctance to accept government assistance. While that may be understandable, it's important to remember that they've supported these programs as taxpayers for many years and the programs are there to help them now. Others are simply unaware of the benefits."

To combat these problems, MAZON has launched a campaign in seven states to educate seniors and their families about available benefits. The outreach program is sponsored by MAZON, with funding from the Walmart Foundation.

Locally, Ruth & Norman Rales Jewish Family Services (JFS) in Boca Raton and Delray Beach is one of 13 JFS agencies in seven states which are taking part in MAZON's "Senior Hunger Initiative." The initiative's purpose is to alert seniors and their families to these benefits as well as lift any shame they might have in accepting them.

Leibman said: "The goal of this outreach is to dramatically reduce the alarming statistics. The belief that the community has an obligation to sustain its most vulnerable is deeply embedded in Jewish tradition. It is unacceptable that a rising number of our nation's seniors struggle to put meals on the table when we have programs, like SNAP, that could help them buy nutritious food."

According to a U.S. Census Bureau demographic study, Palm Beach County has a higher percentage of seniors (22 percent) than any U.S. county of comparable size. Furthermore, the greatest concentration of seniors age 85 and older live in South Palm Beach County, the JFS service area.

Three zip codes in the JFS catchment area (33444, 33445 and 33484) also were identified by the Area Agency on Aging as high-needs areas based on poverty level, disability status and minority status.

Furthermore, three of the largest lower-income retirement communities in Palm Beach County (Kings Point, Delray Beach; Century Village, Boca Raton; and Villages of Oriole, Delray Beach) are all within a few miles from the JFS Shirley & Barton Weisman Delray Community Center in Delray Beach.

Said Danielle Hartman, JFS president and CEO: "A large percentage of these seniors live in proximity to our center, so we hope that those eligible for SNAP will avail themselves of this benefit. We are ready to help them negotiate the steps to get the food support they need."

For information about SNAP benefits for eligible seniors, call JFS at 561-852-3333.

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