SENIOR HIGHLIGHTS: Plateau joins fight against hunger

I am having trouble starting this article – because I am hungry and it is hard to focus on how to organize my thoughts. This is ironic, because the article is about hunger on the Plateau and about starting a group to focus on aging on the Plateau.

Puzzles. We have had a jigsaw puzzle going in this senior center since I started more than 20 years ago. Thank goodness it’s not the same jigsaw puzzle, but always a puzzle.  Lots of pieces that don’t make sense – but when folks are dedicated and work together, slowly, piece by piece, they come together and make a picture – make sense.

Beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday at St. Elizabeth Hospital, Jackie Madill, with Franciscan Health Systems, Britt Nelson, executive director with Plateau Outreach Ministries and I are inviting folks to the “table” to talk about two issues. Well, you say – that sounds like it makes sense, in an orderly fashion.

Now is when I dump the rest of the puzzle pieces onto the table.

Did you know that hunger and malnutrition are an issue for many seniors in our country and for seniors on the Plateau?

That while senior centers offer a hot meal to seniors throughout the week (Enumclaw, Buckley, Black Diamond and Maple Valley) – there are some seniors who can’t attend (out of transportation range, mobility issues, or are suffering from depression/anxiety and won’t attend a center setting).

According to national studies, those seniors who do eat a senior center meal – that is basically the only food they will eat that day?

Here is the BIG fact:  Enumclaw Senior Center is the only site still serving a hot meal to seniors who are home bound due to illness or condition.  Yep, the only one.  Out of five counties to the north and south of us. Why?  I am not sure. It takes more time, organizing and preparing. It makes a huge difference in the lives of the seniors who receive a hot meal though. We could fill this article with testimony from the seniors who have received the hot meals following surgery, or pneumonia or from their family who will state it was a “life-saver” and the one thing that kept Mom or Dad out of an institution.

There are plenty of communities around the United States that still have hot meal delivery. It just takes the commitment. If you have access to a computer, we are asking that you please  Google LOAVES and FISHES + Portland OR to check it out.

Well, five times in the past six years, Enumclaw almost lost its Hot Meal Delivery for Home-Bound Seniors Program. It will be going away at the end of 2012. We will continue the great senior center lunch program, but not the delivery program.

Did you know there are kids who go hungry on the weekends in Enumclaw, when they don’t have the school lunch program?

Did you know we have families living in the campsites, woods and next to the rivers?  Our local food banks are now requesting food donations that don’t have to be cooked – as these families have no way to prepare food.

Now, here is a strange puzzle piece: did you know many communities are starting Aging in Place or Elder Friendly Committees to be ahead of the wave of seniors coming down the pipe?  An American turns 65 every 10.8 seconds and the number of Americans 55 and older will almost double in the next 20 years to a total of 107 million in 2030, or 31 percent of the population. Consider this:  Enumclaw has always been above the percentage in terms of older adults. In the 2010 census the total population was 10, 669. Those citizens over 60? 2121.  Basically we have already hit 20 percent while the rest of the nation is at 13 percent.

At no cost, a group of concerned Plateau citizens can come together and discuss/focus on what would make the Plateau a good place for older adults to live, grow old and stay as involved as possible. Why not? (It is happening in Gig Harbor and Puyallup, why not here?)

So, there is a big pile of puzzle pieces.

Jackie, Britt and I are just three hopeful individuals with a passion and a vision for a completed picture.  A picture of a Plateau that includes a focused group looking at aging issues for the long-term (not just hot meals) and a picture of a food delivery program that would include not just home-bound seniors, but eventually kids, our homeless, struggling families.

So yes, we did pick the big 10,000 piece puzzle box off the shelf. No, we didn’t pick it. It has been sitting there. But we can either ignore the need, or we can say our communities on the Plateau are up to the task. Other communities around the United States are doing this. Let’s do it too. See you on Jan. 19.

By Jobyna Nickum, executive director, Enumclaw Senior Center

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