Augusta banquet tries to make hunger problem real to attendees

Kay Benitez put a face on hunger.

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People participate in the CSRA Hunger Banquet as part of the Stop Senior Hunger Comfort Keepers Initiative at Golden Harvest Food Bank. The banquet held Feb. 7 allowed guests to experience firsthand how dramatically life changes can affect a person's ability to find food.  JACKIE RICCIARDI/STAFF
JACKIE RICCIARDI/STAFF
People participate in the CSRA Hunger Banquet as part of the Stop Senior Hunger Comfort Keepers Initiative at Golden Harvest Food Bank. The banquet held Feb. 7 allowed guests to experience firsthand how dramatically life changes can affect a person's ability to find food.

The Golden Harvest Food Bank’s South Carolina development officer spoke of an elderly woman who every month went to the grocery store and bought two boxes of crackers because she didn’t have enough money for both food and her medicines, and she could take her medicine with crackers without it upsetting her stomach.

She told of another woman whose only companions were her animals. She didn’t have enough money to feed both herself and the cats, so she ate the cat food as well.

“This is to raise awareness,” said Benitez during the Feb. 7 banquet at the Master’s Table Soup Kitchen. About 60 people attended the event presented by Comfort Keepers and Golden Harvest Food Bank.

At the banquet, the attendees were seated at different tables representing the economic demographics of Augusta-area residents. There were different scenarios to describe the types of people who would sit in each section.

Some were affluent, where meals would be served at tables covered with linens and using fine china. At the other end of the spectrum, some sat at tables with no table coverings and wondered whether they would have a next meal. A few represented the homeless population who would scrounge for their meals from a trash can after everyone else ate.

Benitez described these scenarios and then changed things up a bit. Some of the attendees had to change tables moving from the affluent section to the middle class sections because of a job loss. Others moved from upper middle class to affluent because of a new job. And one from the poverty stricken table moved because she’d recently graduated college and found a job.

Nationally, about 10 percent of senior citizens live at or below the poverty level. In the Georgia and South Carolina counties the food bank serves, almost 14 percent of senior citizens live in poverty.

Each month, about 2,100 senior adults receive a 17-pound box of food through the Senior Food Box program, said Nathan Krupa, the food bank’s grants administrator.

“They receive staple foods – vegetables, rice, pasta,” he said. “A lot of them just don’t have the resources to get enough food.”

The annual median income for seniors enrolled in the program is $8,300. The Senior Food Box program began about 20 years ago.

“Our associate director met the lady who ate the cat food,” he said, referencing one of the stories Benitez told.

The food bank recently received two grants to help with this program. One is a $25,000 grant from Bi-Lo to help seniors in South Carolina, and the other is a $45,000 grant to help seniors in Georgia. But more seniors still could benefit.

The program costs $13 per senior per month. For more information about donating, call (706) 736-1199 or visit www.goldenharvest.org.


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