Seniors and Grocery Plus: An International Affair

by

ss-mcNFESH’s annual State of Senior Hunger in America report recently ranked the District of Columbia as one of the top five worst “states” for senior hunger nationally, which should leave any resident of our nation’s capital wondering not only what went wrong, but what can be done. The Capital Area Food Bank, the largest hunger organization serving Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia, is campaigning throughout the month of May (did you know it’s Older American’s Month?) to ensure all seniors in need have access to nourishing meals so they can stay Senior Strong. So what does senior hunger look like across the DC area?

Washington, DC is broadly acknowledged as an international, multicultural city. Yet while the city may be known as a hub for international visitors, like diplomats and tourists, it is also home to specific ethnic groups that immigrated to the area seeking opportunity. These individuals infuse and enrich the culture of Washington as well as the experience of the Capital Area Food Bank’s supplemental food program for DC Seniors, Grocery Plus.  Of the 5,300 active participants in Grocery Plus, about 700 (13%) are immigrants from other parts of the world, mostly Latin America and Asia. As seniors, they face similar financial challenges to our other program participants, but they also create connections through culture and tradition which builds strength and resiliency.

The Grocery Plus program has maintained longtime partnerships with rich cultural hubs throughout DC where seniors gather to socialize, exercise, share meals, and generally enjoy each other’s company. Often times, these hubs are places where cultural traditions are preserved and cherished, such as the Asian and Pacific Islander Senior Center, nestled underneath a historic church in Chinatown. On a recent visit there, I was struck by the array of activities the attendees, who were predominately Chinese, participated in. In one room, a group of men and women sang traditional Chinese songs while one played along with a classical two-string Chinese guitar. Down the corridor, a group of seniors made handcrafted trinkets to send to family members back in China, right around the corner from a lively, synchronized aerobics class. Despite the creaky floors, low basement ceilings and lack of furnishings, there was a wonderful richness in the warmth and positive energy spread by the hundreds of seniors at this center who shared both the physical space and a cultural connection.

A few  neighborhoods over from Chinatown is Adams Morgan, which is home to a large number of El Salvadorans, many of whom flocked to the Washington area during the Salvadoran Civil War of the 1980s and early 90s. In this neighborhood, Grocery Plus has partnered with the VIDA Senior Center, a staple in the community for over 25 years, which serves over 150 Grocery Plus participants each month, in addition to providing a host of other health, nutrition, and wellness services for mostly Latino seniors. They even provide opportunities for seniors of Central American descent to spice up their monthly food deliveries by adding ingredients from their homelands to Grocery Plus food staples, such as grits. Add a little avocado, a hint of flavored cheese, and marinated cabbage and traditionally southern grits become a Salvadorian specialty.

With food at the heart of community, we can ensure the continued presence of multiculturalism and tradition within Washington, DC for its seniors and the many generations to follow.  Consider a contribution to the Capital Area Food Bank today to give older adults the boost they need to stay well and remain Senior Strong.