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Shining a light on senior hunger

This season of celebration is also a time of hunger for many people. But the problem of hunger among senior citizens in Oregon is so close that we may not even recognize it. by: CLIFF NEWELL - Doing a recap on the Hidden in Plain Sight forum at the West End Building on Tuesday are, from left, Eileen Collins, Shelley Buckingham and event organizer Bandana Shrestha.

That is why the forum “Hidden in Plain Sight” was held Tuesday at the West End Building.

This was considered a crucial event by event organizers, who were gratified by the large number of representatives of social service agencies who flocked to Lake Oswego.

“This event shows that senior hunger is a topic of great interest for lots of people,” said Bandana Shrestha, AARP state director of community engagement. “This will let us join forces and make it a much stronger issue. I thought, ‘Wow, we need to shine a light on it.’”

While it is widely known that Oregon ranks second among states in the number of hungry children, it also ranks high in hungry senior citizens. The realization of this has only recently made an impact, even among people with the highest interests at heart for senior citizens.

Eileen Collins, director of senior services in Clackamas County, has worked extensively with senior citizens who provide countless hours of volunteer service. She was stunned to find that some of them are hungry.

“I was mortified,” Collins said. “My own volunteers were often hungry. I was ashamed of myself.”

Still, it is often difficult to discern that a senior citizen has little to eat, and Collins recently encountered a prime example of this in Lake Oswego.

“This was a woman who was beautifully dressed and drove a nice car,” Collins said. “But she told me, ‘I’m only eating one meal a day.’”

“It’s not so easy to tell,” Shrestha said. “There’s some shame associated with being hungry, and older people don’t want to be seen as needy.”

“We can all look out for our neighbor,” said Shelley Buckingham, AARP communications director for Oregon and a resident of West Linn. “Senior hunger is a problem here in Lake Oswego and West Linn.”

That was practically the first thing heard by those attending the forum when Lake Oswego Mayor Jack Hoffman opened the conference.

“Lake Oswego is a very affluent community, but we’re finding more and more people who are hungry,” Hoffman told the audience. “The senior hunger problem is a national tragedy.”

Still, this is a tragedy that has some solutions. All kinds of action to take were presented at the forum, such as increasing the visibility of community and church organizations that are already aiding senior citizens and contacting legislators about the problem.

“Politicians need to be contacted more often about senior hunger,” said Robin Fox of the Oregon Food Bank. “If they hear from one person that senior hunger is a problem and from 10 people with Save the Wolves, they’re going to help Save the Wolves.”

The biggest need, however, is for seniors who suffer from hunger to know they do not need to remain hungry. There are many resources that can get food to senior citizens. Especially promising is the new 2-1-1 service. Food can be just a phone call away.

“This service has 900 resources,” Shrestha said. “Too often senior citizens say, ‘I don’t need it that much.’ But when they’re hungry they need the services.”

The issue of senior hunger is sad and humiliating for such a rich nation.

“Who would have thought that in the U.S. we were not taking care of our own?” asked Buckingham.

But thanks in part to programs like Hidden in Plain Sight, the alarm about senior hunger has been sounded and results are expected quickly.

“We have to take action steps now,” Fox said.

“We need to join forces and make it a much stronger issue,” said Joan Smith of Meals on Wheels.

For more information, visit aarp.org/or.