Hunger Touches Colorado Seniors After a Lifetime of Work

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Tom and Loyola Quintana have worked hard all their lives.

If you visit the couple’s Greeley home, it’s easy to see the twin pillars that have supported and encouraged them through their 51 years of marriage: family and faith. Both 80-year-old Tom and 81-year-old Loyola maintained full-time jobs, including Tom’s 14 years of service in the U.S. Army. Both retired in their 70s with small pensions and Social Security.

Like many seniors on fixed incomes, constant increases in the cost of living like heat and electricity, along with unexpected and expensive illnesses like Tom’s battle with cancer and his recent strokes, have eaten into the small nest egg they were able to build. Like one in every 10 Colorado seniors, the Quintanas know what hunger is. They get help from the Weld Food Bank.

“You don’t want to be doing it, but if you have to, you have to,” Loyola said. “It’s what keeps us from turning off the heat or going without some of Tom’s medicines he needs.”

The Quintanas’ story isn’t unique for Erika Westfall, the manager of senior outreach for the food bank, which serves 2,900 seniors living primarily in Weld County.

“We see this all the time. They worked hard their whole lives, but the lower wage jobs they worked leave them with little Social Security to rely on,” Westfall said. “They didn’t have a lot of excess income during their working years, so building up a large savings to see them through wasn’t possible. Then a health issue happens and the medical bills pile up. Now they are faced with terrible choices.”

To accommodate the variety of seniors and their needs, the food bank has a food pickup option and provides delivery for those who are homebound. Many of the seniors served are living on an income no more than $1,300 a month and often less than $770 a month, leaving little room for the kinds of unexpected expenses that life often brings. The benefits of making sure all seniors have enough to eat are well-documented. Those who don’t struggle for food have lower medical costs, less instances of depression, better management of chronic diseases and fewer limitations on their daily activity.

“We sometimes struggle to give seniors help with food. These are proud people who don’t want help or think help should be saved for someone who needs it more,” Westfall said.

For Loyola, the food bank brings a particular benefit for her and her four children, nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. According to her family, no one makes green chili and sweet rice like she does. “They always order sweet rice when we all get together. They say no one makes it better than me. And I figure, I’m older than the hills and twice as dusty, so who is going to argue?” Loyola said, her laugh echoing across her kitchen. 

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