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Pantry starts senior days

St. Mary's takes on growing problem

April 20, 2010
SOUTHBRIDGE — The image of a poor, elderly person eating cat food is an unpleasant stereotype. Unfortunately, the stereotype is based, in part, on reality.

While most seniors aren't going hungry enough to do that, more than 10 percent are at least "marginally food insecure," and around 750,000 nationwide actually "suffered from hunger due to financial constraints."

That number, from the report "Causes, Consequences and Future of Senior Hunger in America" by James Ziliak and colleagues, is based on data from 2001-5.

But Bill Mason, manager of the St. Mary's Food Pantry in Southbridge, strongly suspects it has become worse since the economy collapsed in December 2008. Starting last week, his pantry is now opening two extra days a month (the second and fourth Wednesdays) specifically for seniors, but they're approaching it a little differently from what they've been doing for years now. Instead of just having people walk in during their regular hours (Tuesday 3-5 p.m. and Thursday 10 a.m. to noon weekly), Mason said he's encouraging seniors to call and set up appointments to, among other things, protect their privacy.

"We only had 1 percent [of our clientele] over 65 years old, so we realized seniors had too much pride and weren't going to stand in line," he said. " But we want them to come in, because we know they're trying to live on their Social Security checks. The whole idea is to make it OK to come get food."

See Tuesday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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