Seniors to lawmakers: As prices rise, food becomes a 'discretionary' expense for kupuna

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hundreds of kupuna gathered at the state Capitol building on Wednesday to share this message: Too many seniors are going hungry in the islands.

Elizabeth Ai, 72, joined others to raise awareness about the increasing demand for services provided by Lanakila Meals on Wheels.

"It's a big help for me and others," said the Kalihi resident. "I can't stand long and cook."

As Hawaii's elderly population increases, advocates warn that the need for funding meals programs also continues to grow.

"The estimate is that 1 in 6 seniors is going hungry on a daily basis, but really we think that number is so much higher," Lori Lau, director of Lanakila Meals on Wheels. "With the kupuna being homebound, they're isolated. They may not know the resources that are available to them."

The program serves more than 400,000 meals annually to about 2,500 senior citizens. The average wait time to start receiving services is at least 9 months, according to Lau.

Emmie Campos, 76, receives meals through a Lanakila Meals on Wheels' Kupuna Wellness Center at the Pohulani Elderly Apartments in Kakaako.

"The meals are good, perfect you know. We love it," said Campos. "I really appreciate it."

In Hawaii, nearly 16% of people 65 and older rely on Social Security for 90% or more of the family income, with the average monthly benefit about $1,300, according to AARP Hawaii.

Advocates warn that many kupuna living on fixed incomes are having to make difficult decisions.

"They're making choices between, 'Do I pay for a roof over my head? What about my medication or food?'" said Barbara Kim Stanton, AARP Hawaii state director. "What becomes discretionary is food and that's very sad. That's why so many of our seniors are going hungry."

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