Janet Burke, 71, opens the door of her Hollywood apartment with a smile. That’s how she greets Britt Weatherhead every Friday when he delivers a box of food that will keep hunger away.
Cheese, milk, bread and fruit are some of the items Burke finds in the box. Five frozen meals complete the Meals on Wheels delivery.
“It would be very hard if I did not have this,” Burke said as she held a frozen tray of chicken and rice. But her favorites are the cannelloni, she added.
Burke is one of the nearly 9 million elderly people at risk of hunger in the United States. In Florida, with the highest percentage of people 60 and older, more than 750,000 elderly need food assistance, according to experts.
The problems confronting the elderly have become one of the hot topics for candidates this election year. Candidates in South Florida have pointed to the needs of the elderly as one of the key concerns voiced by voters.
“South Florida was the mecca for retirees,” said Mark Adler, regional executive director of Meals on Wheels. “But now many people are suffering to get to the end of the month.”
One out of every five state residents are older than 65. That makes Florida the state with the highest number of elderly. Only 15.6 percent of U.S. residents are older than 65.
Although the number of elderly has been growing, their purchasing power has not kept pace, according to several reports. The percentage of elderly who declared bankruptcy across the United States rose fivefold since 1991, according to the study “Graying of U.S. Bankruptcy: Fallout from Life in a Risk Society.”
Food delivery services like the one that benefits Burke are designed for people with low incomes. Meals on Wheels offers food to 2.4 million U.S. elderly every year, including 65,000 in Florida.
The only requirements are to be 60 or older and be unable to leave home without assistance.
Burke, a New Jersey native, lives under the poverty line and says that even though she still has to buy food, the deliveries help to keep her from “spending more.”
Although Meals on Wheels accepts donations, Burke pays nothing. The weekly box brought by Weatherhead costs about $50.
Weatherhead, 72, a retired volunteer from Seattle, said he knows of no case where anyone has asked why the beneficiaries of Meals on Wheels are receiving subsidized food.
“They are really trapped” at home, said Weatherhead, one of the 250 volunteers who distribute the Meals on Wheels packages around South Florida. “Helping these people has become part of my life.”