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Greater Victoria meal program for low income seniors could be lost without donor support


A food security program delivering meals to seniors on a low income or facing health challenges could soon end in Greater Victoria if funding doesn’t come through.

“I would be very, very disappointed,” says Isabel Clemson, a More than Meals recipient. “I would find it a real hardship.”

Since the pandemic, the elderly woman in her 90s has been getting a weekly delivery of three meals to her door from a team of volunteers at James Bay New Horizons. She says she struggles to cook and grocery shop due to poor eye sight and hand coordination challenges.

“It’s been just a godsend for me. I just am so grateful,” says Clemson.

New Horizons executive director Kim Dixon says the program was meant to be temporary, addressing challenges – such as isolation, malnutrition and limited incomes – that were exacerbated for seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it’s since found the need for the program isn’t just continuing, it’s grown.

“A lot of them live in silence. They won’t complain. You don’t know the difference but we’ve seen a 25 per cent increase in just our food services,” says Dixon. “On Wednesdays we do the meal program, on Tuesdays we do a hot lunch, and people are coming in to do those programs now that may never have thought about it before just because they can’t afford to buy groceries.”

New Horizons isn’t alone in its findings. B.C.’s seniors advocate says affordability is the number one concern for our older population.

“I’ve even heard a case where there was a senior who lost their driver’s licence. They were no longer able to drive. They were in their 80s. And rather get rid of their car, they kept it in case they might need it as a place to live,” says Dan Levitt.

According to the Office of the Seniors Advocate's most recent monitoring report, 50 per cent of seniors in B.C. earn an income below minimum wage – and almost one-third of the seniors population receives the federal Guaranteed Income Supplement, which means their incomes are less than $25,000 per year.

“About 23 per cent of people in Victoria are over the age of 65 and we know that this number is going to keep growing so we need to be ready for this ongoing need for support, for seniors who are on fixed-income experiencing isolation and could really benefit from the check-in that also comes with this meal delivery program,” says United Way of Southern Vancouver Island’s director of development, Lori Angelini.

The charity collects the donor dollars for More than Meals and sends the funding to New Horizons and Beacon Services so the two agencies can distribute 350 meal packages a week. To qualify, the older recipients need to have an income that’s less than $27,000.

“It’s been a trend throughout Canada that many charities are experiencing fewer donations and it really just has to do with the cost of living and the current situation of the economy. When people have less income, unfortunately, charitable giving is one of the first things that gets cut,” says Angelini.

The groups say half a million dollars is needed to extend the program or the deliveries could end by summer.

“What we need is a fairy godmother to come down,” says Dixon. “Please consider the seniors and what they’ve done in this community to keep this community alive and well – and what their future looks like if they don’t have these programs.”

This is part one in a three-part series called "Aging with Dignity," which is looking at ways we can better support an aging population. Top Stories

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