Feeding Our Kūpuna

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Hawai‘i is home to more than 300,000 kūpuna age 60 and older. These resilient individuals are our parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles—family members who have spent their lives working hard and contributing their knowledge and wisdom to build a better future for the next generation. Our kūpuna deserve dignity and respect in their golden years. However, currently there are thousands of seniors in Hawai‘i who struggle just to put food on the table.

The issue of senior hunger is complex, and is often a symptom of deeper flaws in the structure of our economy, our society, and of our food systems themselves. To effectively address the problem, policymakers need to place the issue of senior hunger into a more holistic framework—one that understands the interplay between public health, economic justice and social capital.

This report presents an overview of the tools—many of them federal safety net programs—that are available to alleviate the problem here in Hawai‘i. Even as stand-alone solutions, these tools can add many healthy years to the lifespan of our seniors, while reducing the societal cost of healthcare expenditures.

However, they can be even more effective when thought of as just one of three components of food security:

  1. Safety net programs;
  2. Nutrition (i.e. the “Food-as-Medicine” movement); and
  3. Building sustainable community-based food systems.

This report examines each of the safety net tools with special attention to how they can be used to support the other two legs—nutrition and food systems. These safety net tools are organized into two different delivery models: nutrition benefits programs; and prepared meal programs.

Nutrition benefits programs operate similar to cash, as they can be used for food purchases at grocery stores, farmers’ markets or other retail outlets. These programs offer participating seniors flexibility in what they choose to purchase or eat. Prepared meal programs address related and underlying issues that exacerbate food insecurity in our senior population, such as social isolation or health and access issues.

Ensuring access to these tools is critical, but only one piece of the solution. The recommendations in this report are intended to not only have an impact on the number of seniors served, but also to improve health outcomes, bolster community resiliency, and strengthen the local economy while addressing Hawai‘i’s sustainable agriculture goals.

Service providers and policymakers should work to maximize federal program dollars in the quest to build a food system that connects food producers to consumers, thereby improving the freshness of the ingredients available to low income seniors while keeping capital circulating in Hawai‘i’s agricultural sector. As a state, we should harness these tools to ensure our kūpuna have opportunities to stay connected with their communities. With better coordination, and by better leveraging available resources, we can strengthen our hunger safety net and minimize the number of seniors in Hawai‘i that experience food insecurity.