Seniors’ center activates to meet food demand during pandemic | North Dakota News

By MIKE McCLEARY, The Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK, ND (AP) – Mike and June Benedict walked from their car to their Bismarck apartment on a cold and breezy spring morning in April, carrying boxes and bags of meals they received from the program of free offer at Bismarck Senior Center.

Inside the apartment, the two functions were shared. She took the frozen meals out of the boxes and put them in the freezer, while he found room in the fridge for the fresh produce. Later, when they work late at night, supplies will provide them with a home-cooked meal when they take a break.

” It’s really practical. We can put it in the microwave and cook ourselves a nice dinner, ”Mike said.

The married couple have reached retirement age, but they are not financially able to retire. And even if they were ready to leave the workforce, they have no desire to quit their night shift working for a cleaning service, reported the Bismarck Tribune.

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A life of long hours and late nights sweeping, crouching, wiping and dusting has given June, 65, a firm outward appearance, but as she speaks a soft, kind and compassionate side is revealed. Mike, 67, is shy and calm, yet quick with a smile and a glint in his eyes that indicates an energy within even though his gait has slowed down.

June has cleaned offices in Bismarck and Mandan for 27 years, and the couple have worked side-by-side since 2006, while Mike continued to work as a car washer at a local dealership. He retired from this job in 2019, but kept the cleaning job.

Like many others, the couple have seen their weekly hours cut amid the coronavirus pandemic. The reduction of about 10 hours per week for each meant smaller paychecks and less money to spend on food once the bills were paid.

“It hurts. We had to restart our budget,” June said. “You just bought what you had to buy. It’s our faith that keeps us going.

Their working hours have recently rebounded as the economy has improved, but for months the Benedicts have relied on the Bismarck Senior Center to bolster their food supply. Each week the couple arrive to pick up enough frozen meals for a week.

“We make a grocery list and get what we need (from the stores), but we thank God for the senior center for frozen meals,” June said. “That’s what helped us in most cases. I thank God that we can find our food there.

Before the pandemic, meals served at the senior center were about half gathered in the dining room and half delivered to homes by volunteers. But with the start of the pandemic in March last year, the senior center closed its facilities and suspended health services and social activities. Staff and volunteers continued to provide hot and frozen meals five days a week and for weekends without interruption.

A drive-through meal distribution method on weekdays was organized in the southern parking lot of the senior center to distribute hot meals for lunches and frozen meals for evenings and weekends.

“We had to completely change our delivery model,” said Renee Kipp, executive director of the Burleigh County Senior Adults Program, which runs the senior center.

Under the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program, a federal subsidy program created in 1974 for communal and home-delivered meals, the senior center has seen a 26% increase in meals prepared during the pandemic – from 98 203 meals between March 2019 and March 2020, to 123,722 meals between March 2020 and March of this year. During the same sampling period, home deliveries increased by over 71%.

The center has gone from 410 meals a day in 2019 to 550 meals a day amid the pandemic.

“Just the volume of what we did, we had to adjust,” Kipp said. “We just had to become a lot more functional than we’ve ever been. We have definitely learned to be more efficient.

Kipp said that at the start of the pandemic everyone was on deck for the 22 full-time and part-time staff and many volunteers. They had to adapt quickly to conditions and solve problems on the fly to make sure the hungry were fed.

The center had cost overruns of nearly $ 200,000 due to the pandemic. The increase in food totaled over $ 72,000, and the purchase of personal protective equipment and disposable food packaging supplies added nearly $ 97,500. The surpluses were offset by local and state grants and loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, a form of federal coronavirus aid.

The senior center distributes meals for free but suggests a voluntary offer of $ 4.50 or whatever a beneficiary can afford.

“We don’t keep track,” Kipp said. “We don’t want anyone to go hungry.

The number of elderly people struggling with food insecurity was increasing even before the pandemic. Kipp has seen a 10-20% increase in meal requests from older residents of Burleigh County every year since she started as CEO nine years ago.

“It just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” she said. “Sometimes it was very stressful, but we try to be positive. At the very least, we have learned to really understand isolation and what it is like for some of our seniors at home who are isolated. Because we’ve all kind of been through this now. It gave us renewed motivation to serve them.

Kipp attributes the annual increases to the growing population of working seniors.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2026, more than 30% of people aged 65 and over will still be in the labor force, with the 75 and over group seeing the fastest rate of increase. faster. Some work by choice and others by necessity.

In North Dakota, the number of seniors working past the age of 65 is a growing trend – from around 14% of the senior population in 2000 to nearly 22% in 2019.

Low-income older workers or the elderly living in poverty are the hardest hit by food insecurity, according to Feeding America. A report released last year by the nation’s largest national hunger organization based on 2018 data found that nearly 22,000 North Dakota seniors were food insecure.

The problem of food insecurity, poverty and the isolation of the elderly is having a ripple effect on the country’s health system, with an estimated $ 130 billion in additional medical expenditure caused by cancer, disease heart disease, depression and diabetes, according to the AARP.

“It’s not like 25 years ago, 30 years ago where you retire and have all the time in the world to play cards and do whatever you want,” Kipp said. “It’s not like that anymore. They are working, they are looking after their grandchildren, they may still be looking after their parents and they have no time to come in. They would probably like to come in and visit people and sit and have a meal, but that might not be realistic.

The Benedicts always have the desire to continue working as long as they have the capacity. But they also recognize that they don’t have the financial security to retire and live off social security alone.

“If you have no income, if you have low income and you have nothing, who are you going to turn to? Said June. “Where are you going to go? Are you going to start rummaging in the trash?”

There are 15 pantries in Burleigh and Morton counties, and a soup cafe in Bismarck, which also offers food and dining for people of all ages.

Bismarck Meals on Wheels is prepared in the Sanford Health kitchen and offers specific diet meals on a sliding scale.

The Burleigh County Seniors Program also offers meals at Wing Senior Center and Sterling United Methodist Church.

The Bismarck Elderly Center offers June and her husband a reliable option in particularly difficult times.

– I mean, it’s like that, she said. “I don’t know what we would do if we didn’t have a place like the senior center.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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