A recently released feature from National Geographic Magazine titled, “The New Face of Hunger,” documents hunger programs in Iowa, New York and Texas and also includes a four-minute video of efforts by Charolette Tidwell to help provide food to seniors in the Fort Smith area.
“By whatever name, the number of people going hungry has grown dramatically in the U.S., increasing to 48 million by 2012 — a fivefold jump since the late 1960s, including an increase of 57 percent since the late 1990s,” notes a segment from the feature on the National Geographic website. (The video of Tidwell may be viewed at the end of this story.)
The report notes that in 1980 there were a few hundred emergency food programs in the U.S., but that has grown to an estimated 50,000.
“Finding food has become a central worry for millions of Americans. One in six reports running out of food at least once a year. In many European countries, by contrast, the number is closer to one in 20,” according to the report.
Tidwell, who founded the Antioch Consolidated District Association for Youth and Family about 13 years ago with her late husband, organizes food deliveries once a week to poor seniors and families in Fort Smith. The National Geographic feature also includes interviews with Ken Kupchick, director of marketing and development for the River Valley Regional Food Bank.
Tidwell worked at Sparks for 33 years having worked her way up from a nurse to director of nursing. She then worked 10 years for Fort Smith-based Beverly Enterprises (now Golden Living) in nutrition services. According to Kupchick, Tidwell has now devoted her retirement years to getting adequate nutrition to our youth and elderly.
At last count, Tidwell and more than 15 volunteers coordinate with food banks and other food providers to help 1,474 elderly and disabled in Fort Smith on a monthly basis.
“Most of the funding for what she does comes out of her own pocket,” Kupchick said in an e-mail note to The City Wire.
Tidwell and volunteers deliver approximately 140 bags of groceries to the elderly in places like Nelson Homes, Coleman Commons, West Apartments, Gorman Tower, the McGill Center and Allied Gardens. Kupchick said she also includes a bouquet of flowers, compliments of Walmart, when available.
“I turn no one away. No one,” Tidwell says at the end of the video.
The video of Tidwell’s efforts in Fort Smith was produced by Shannon Sanders, a videographer from Piggot, a small town in northeast Arkansas.
Kupchick played a key role in recruiting National Geographic. Magazine editors initially did not want to highlight hunger in Arkansas because the state “was too easy a go-to story,” Kupchick said in a December 2013 interview about the process.
Kupchick pressed the editors and requested they at least use Arkansas to highlight the issue of senior hunger. His persistence paid off. Although the editors opted to exclude Arkansas from the printed piece, they did decide to make a video for their website focusing specifically on the growing threat of senior hunger.
According to Feeding America, 54% of Americans have used a food pantry for at least six months or more during the past year. The report also found that seniors are hardest hit when it comes to food insecurity, with one in three “recurrent” food bank clients being 60-years of age or older.
Following are more hunger statistics from Feeding America and other sources.
• More than one third of all people visiting food pantries (36%) report having used a food pantry at least every month within the past year, and on average use a food pantry for more than 28 consecutive months.
• Among the elderly, well more than half (56%) are long term recurrent pantry users, suggesting that the fixed incomes of elderly may be insufficient to provide for basic needs.
• In 2012, 2.8 million (8.8%) households with seniors experienced food insecurity. 1.1 million (9.1%) households composed of seniors living alone experience food insecurity. The number of food insecure seniors is projected to increase by 50% when the youngest of the Baby Boom Generation reaches age 60 in 2025.
• Seniors are more likely to be food insecure if they: Live in a southern state; Live with a grandchild; Are African American; or Are Hispanic.
• Food insecurity sometimes isn’t about money for the elderly. They may have enough money to purchase food but do not have the resources to access or prepare food because of lack of transportation, functional limitations, or health problems.
• Elderly households are much less likely to receive help through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) than non-elderly households, even when expected benefits are roughly the same. Only 34% receive SNAP benefits who would otherwise qualify.