Editorial: The cost of food is causing many to go hungry. Our neighbors need your help

·4 min read

All of us are feeling the pain of higher costs, from the gas pump to the supermarket checkout line.

We've had to cut back, tighten our belts to make that dollar stretch more.

But what about our neighbors whose dollars are already stretched too thin? We're talking about the residents in our county who can barely afford one good meal a day. For many, especially our seniors, that one meal a day comes from Brevard Community Kitchen in Rockledge run by Aging Matters of Brevard.

Already serving 1,800 meals daily including kids at summer camps and various other programs including Meals on Wheels, the organization has been forced to put 500 people on the waiting list due to rising food prices.

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The increases from January through June alone are staggering.

The following are some examples of the increase in the price of bulk food items utilized by Aging Matters since January:

• Applesauce is up 39.2%;

• Mandarin oranges are up 23.8%;

• Diced peaches are up 33.2%;

• Breaded chicken is up 35.4%;

• Meatballs are up 30%;

• Milk is up 22%.

"Across the board, prices are up 20 percent from January," said Senior Director of Operations Tom Kammerdener, comparing the severity to a Category 4 hurricane. "You end up feeding less people. We can do so much more volume here, it's the money, there is such a need here and it's not going away. People need to wake up."

The organization has a small paid staff (13) and a sea of volunteers. The word waste is not in their vocabulary and evidence is easy to spot. There is a working oven from 1976 and a second broken one nearby that is kept around for parts. The giant mixing bowls are 28 years old and a very low handle on a freezer door is proof that they repurposed another door that would typically swing in the other direction. Upside down, the door works just fine.

Josh Jensen, president and CEO of Aging Matters in Brevard, is pictured at the Brevard Community Kitchen in a video shown during the United Way of Brevard's first-ever virtual campaign kickoff. Aging Matters, which oversees Meals on Wheels and area senior lunch sites, is one of the nonprofits whose work is supported by United Way of Brevard.
Josh Jensen, president and CEO of Aging Matters in Brevard, is pictured at the Brevard Community Kitchen in a video shown during the United Way of Brevard's first-ever virtual campaign kickoff. Aging Matters, which oversees Meals on Wheels and area senior lunch sites, is one of the nonprofits whose work is supported by United Way of Brevard.

During the pandemic, the waiting list became nonexistent as emergency COVID funds helped the kitchen purchase the needed goods. The kitchen is held to the highest standards and enforcement and cannot accept donated food.

"People tend to think we get food donated or that everything is free and it's not," Kammerdener said, adding that their outstanding buying power allows them to get more bang for the buck. But it still won't go far enough as the need increases.

The kitchen receives more than 60 percent of its funding through state and federal programs. Cities like Palm Bay, Melbourne, Cocoa and Titusville also pitch in. Brevard County? Incredibly the county only supplies $60,000 for the Meals on Wheels program.

Josh Jensen, president and CEO of Aging Matters, said often people think government funds cover the nearly $7 million budget. They don't, and sometimes those government funds seem woefully insignificant compared to the need.

"The need is absolutely everywhere," Jensen said.

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Besides the obvious benefit of a hot, nutritious meal, Jensen said the interaction with the seniors can also be invaluable.

"Many times the person delivering the food is the only person they will see that day," Jensen said. "It's about isolation and interaction."

Tom and Claire Jessessky carry their cooler full of meals to their car on a recent Saturday when Florida Power & Light Company volunteers participated in their annual Power to Care Day. Volunteers worked alongside Brevard County nonprofits Meals on Wheels and Aging Matters to deliver lunch to homebound seniors in the Melbourne area.
Tom and Claire Jessessky carry their cooler full of meals to their car on a recent Saturday when Florida Power & Light Company volunteers participated in their annual Power to Care Day. Volunteers worked alongside Brevard County nonprofits Meals on Wheels and Aging Matters to deliver lunch to homebound seniors in the Melbourne area.

It seems unfair for us to ask you to reach into your pockets and donate when prices are skyrocketing all around us. But our neighbors are in trouble and need your help right now.

So, what can you do? For only $1 a day, you can join the "More than a Meal" club and feed one hungry senior for an entire week. That dollar a day would go a long way in making a huge difference.

We're asking you to help. We're also asking our elected officials to look at their budgets to see if they can provide more support to organizations like Aging Matters that supply this necessary help to our neighbors in need.

To donate, go to: agingmattersbrevard.org

This editorial was written on behalf of the FLORIDA TODAY Editorial Board which consists of Executive Editor Mara Bellaby, Engagement Editor John Torres, Sports Editor Tim Walters and Sr. Marketing Director Gina Kaiser.

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This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Editorial: The cost of food is causing many to go hungry. Our neighbors need your help