Getting Food to Seniors: A Bingo game in High Point becomes the perfect place to reach seniors in need
“0-77…1-17…G-49… G-25… B-7.”
The room at Macedonia Family Resource Center in High Point, NC, is hushed as 10 seniors listen to the caller and move pinto beans over the squares on their Bingo cards.
“Bingo!” says an elderly lady, looking up at the others, grinning.
“Again?” says a gentleman in a flannel shirt, laughing. “I think her card is rigged!”
Every Thursday afternoon a group of seniors take the Housing Authority bus from Elm Towers in downtown High Point to Macedonia to play a full two hours of bingo before they collect bags of food from the onsite food pantry. Elm Towers is a Housing Authority high rise for seniors and people with disabilities.
This group is clearly a tight knit community– some have been playing weekly together for years. They are Bingo aficionados and know a surprising number of ways to play: Four Corners, Big X, Full House, Crazy Snake, Picture Frame. They have brought their own prizes to award each other. The woman who has just won stands up slowly and moves across the room with her walker to the prize table and studies its contents: a dime store necklace, a pill box, a dented box of Pepsodent toothpaste, a package of Ramen noodles.
“The weekly Bingo game was popular with folks from Elm Towers and people who live in the neighborhood surrounding the center,” explains Dell McCormick, Macedonia’s Executive Director. “We noticed that some people from the neighborhood were coming back on Fridays for our food distribution, but not the people from Elm Towers. It turns out they didn’t have transportation on Fridays.”
“But we thought they probably needed food, too,” he continues. “So when we asked if food would be helpful, it was a ‘yes.’ Yes, they wanted it. Yes, they needed it.”
It can be harder for seniors to protect themselves from hunger than it is for the general population. For example, one study found that food-insecure seniors sometimes had enough money to purchase food but did not have the resources to access or prepare food due to lack of transportation, functional limitations or health problems.
The goal of Macedonia Family Resource Center is not just to provide a temporary fix to the issues that impact their community, but rather to offer options for positive change. Founded originally to provide a Head Start program in the community, other family programs evolved from summer camps to GED classes to the food pantry program, which is run in partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank.
After the last Bingo game of the day and after the final prizes are selected from the prize table, the players spend a few minutes catching up and asking about each other’s grandchildren. As they prepare to leave, a Macedonia staff member rolls out a big cart filled with bags of food. Each bag contain a wide variety of food– big bags of rice, canned fruits, shelf stable milk. The bags are heavy, and a young woman coming to pick up her son from the center’s Head Start program helps one lady carry her bag out to the Housing Authority bus.
One Bingo player, Ann, steps out the front doors of the center and tilts her head up towards the sun. “My goodness it is pretty out for February!” she exclaims.
Ann is clutching her bag of food close to her chest and the proportions of the bag make her seem very small– she must only be about 4 foot 10. She walks slowly across the parking lot, holding handrails as she steps off the curb.
Ann is 83 and explains that she still lives on the farm that she grew up on, which is only a few miles from downtown High Point. “My great grandfather farmed it, and it was farmed all the way to my dad. Now a man pays me a little to put some cows on it, so that way it doesn’t grow up with weeds,” she says. “But we used to have a big garden and just ate right out of that.”
While Ann and her husband still have this important family land, times are still tough for them. They are unable to farm the land, or even tend a household garden. The live on a limited budget.
After a 20-year career, Ann retired early to care for her invalid mother, caring for her in the old farmhouse so she could “stay home till the end.”
“My mother had a sound mind, but her body was bad. But my father’s mind went, and I had to move him into a home. He was there for 10 years, and we used up all the family money and all my savings to pay for it.”
After using up the family savings in the 1990’s while caring for her parents, Ann found herself now too old to go back to work herself. “Now I know we are better off than a lot of people, but its still so hard,” she says. “Everything is so expensive now.”
“But this helps,” she says nodding to the bag of food she has now placed in the backseat of her car. “It helps. Anything helps.”
More than 5 million senior citizens age 60 and older struggle with hunger. In the next two decades, the number of food-insecure seniors is projected to increase by 50 percent when the youngest of the Baby Boomer Generation reaches age 60 in 2025.
Second Harvest Food Bank is currently working with Macedonia Family Resource Center and two other Second Harvest High Point partner agencies to learn more about senior hunger, the barriers seniors face, and how we can best serve this community. You can learn more about that project here.