Sociology Professor Fights Senior Hunger

JamesWright-250x313James Wright, Ph.D., Pegasus Professor and Provost Distinguished Research Professor in the UCF Sociology Department is making strides for the senior community with the Table Sixty initiative.

Table Sixty is an effort led by a group of about 50 local community leaders to address the issue of senior food insecurity in Orange County. As Chairman of the Steering Committee, Dr. Wright is partnering with Second Harvest Food Bank, the Senior Resource Alliance, Seniors First, the Winter Park Health Foundation and several others to spearhead these efforts.

“This all began three years ago with the Mayor of Orlando’s summit on senior hunger,” explained Dr. Wright. “There was a loose understanding that there was an issue involving senior hunger. In the course of the meeting, I kept raising questions about data and as the discussion unfolded, it became obvious that current hunger programs were using data on people already taking advantage of existing  food resources. The data did not capture those still in need, those not currently being served.”

Through a survey led by Dr. Wright of Orange County households, it was found that of 16,000 seniors satisfied the USDA definition of “food insecure,” of whom 5,000 would be considered “food insecure with hunger.” Only about half the food insecure seniors were even aware of food pantries in their neighborhoods. The survey also revealed that while low income families and children suffered the most severe food insecurities, the consequences of senior food insecurity were more severe.

Table Sixty Photo“The consequences of being food insecure seem to be amplified for senior citizens,” explained Dr. Wright. “There is ample, clinical evidence looking at the link between food insecurity and various chronic diseases of persons over the age of 60 such as hypertension, types of cardiac issues and kidney malfunctions.”

With financial support from the Winter Park Health Foundation, the Steering Committee, titled Table Sixty, was formed to tackle complexities of senior food insecurity such as affordance, lack of mobility, cooking limitations, and dietary restrictions.

The Table Sixty effort is targeting these issues in areas with high rates of senior food insecurity in Orange County such as Holden Heights, Killarney in west Winter Park and Old Baldwin Park. Each selected neighborhood had to meet certain criteria in order for Table Sixty to be viable. This included a food pantry in the neighborhood to work with as well as being near existing Meals on Wheels delivery sites.

“We settled on three pilot areas and have formed committees for each of the target areas,” stated Dr. Wright. “We have been focusing on reaching out to local community organizations, churches, food pantries, and neighborhood organizations in these areas to convene a meeting and talk about the communities’ view of their senior hunger problem and figure out what each community needs.”

Table Sixty’s growing initiative hopes to move forward in the direction of community outreach through faith based communities, volunteerism, and financial support. Mobile food pantries are also being considered along with numerous other initiatives.

“Sooner or later, we are going to have to evolve a system of volunteers to do direct home delivery, either of prepared meals or pantry items,” said Dr. Wright. “I see this as a huge opportunity for UCF students and organizations to assist their community members in need.”

Comments are closed.