A few years ago, administrators at Catholic Social Services were looking over the many statistics they use to track the number of people they serve. As a charitable nonprofit tasked with helping Alaska’s most vulnerable populations, what they saw shocked them.
“What we found is that since 2005, we have seen a 266 percent growth in clients 65 and older,” said Lisa Aquino, CSS executive director. “This is happening in Alaska, and it is a trend that is happening in the Lower 48 as well. It’s a special population, and they need help.”
Indeed, this aging population faces more and more challenges making ends meet. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the numbers of aging Americans has increased from nearly 35 million in 2000 to 50 million today. By the year 2030, that number is expected to climb to 71.5 million.
On a more local level, the statistics are similar. In 2005, CSS’s Brother Francis Shelter provided a warm bed for 44 guests age 65 or older. In 2010, that number climbed to 86, and in 2015 it nearly doubled, to 166. Other programs also see the impact of aging.
At the CSS St. Francis House Food Pantry, demand for federal food assistance for seniors has climbed, too. This year, the Food Pantry went from handing out 300 federal senior food boxes per month to 400. As a result, the Food Bank of Alaska has increased case-loads to serve this growing population.
“Statewide, there are 900 more boxes being delivered,” said program director David Rittenberg. “So it’s everywhere.”
To help meet the needs of this rapidly growing population, Catholic Social Services is depending upon a nearly $1 million contribution from Providence Health & Services Alaska to combat homelessness and hunger in Alaska. The funds Providence provides have helped CSS support older Alaskans who just need a little extra help.
Patty Jacobus is one of them. She and her husband live on a fixed income and often she must choose between basic necessities.
“My husband and I go to the Southcentral Foundation elder program every day to eat if we can,” she said. “And I care for my sister, who has lung cancer. We can pay for most things, but we still struggle. Gas and food are the main things we struggle with.”
So Jacobus and her husband come to St. Francis House Food Pantry. There, they are able to pick out enough food for a family of two to help supplement their weekly grocery needs. It’s not a lot: One serving of breakfast foods, one can of canned protein or bag of beans, two frozen chicken breasts, one package of fresh vegetables, one can of vegetables, one can of fruit, and two loaves of bread.
A federal program provides a larger meat or additional breakfast items, but for the most part, the Jacobus family can leave the Pantry with one shopping bag of groceries. Still, it has an impact.
“Physically and emotionally, I’m run down,” Jacobus said. “But this helps and we appreciate it. Every bit helps.”
Rittenberg said Providence’s donation has helped him and his staff keep up with the growing demand for food. On any given day, the Pantry distributes 2 tons of food to roughly 100 clients, ranging from one person to 11-member families.
“We have lost a lot of jobs in the state, and it’s difficult to relocate when you get older,” Rittenberg said. “So people are here, and they struggle to get by.”
Aquino said Providence’s assistance has been key to Catholic Social Service’s ability to serve the community.
“These are people who are on fixed incomes,” Aquino said. “They are a special population. We could not do this without Providence’s support.”