Food for thought

Michael Larnish sits down for a bite.

Paul Zoeller

For lunch on Wednesday, Michael Larnish, 75, ate spaghetti with meat sauce, squash, green beans and applesauce at Charleston Area Senior Citizens' downtown center.

For breakfast, it was a Starbucks pastry.

“How sweet that is!” he said. Larnish eats pastries from Starbucks every morning, actually, because they're donated each day to the Ansonborough House, a subsidized housing complex on Society Street where Larnish lives with 76 other low-income seniors.

If it weren't for these safety net programs designed to curb senior hunger, Larnish and hundreds of other seniors around the Lowcountry would struggle to pay for their next hot meal.

“I couldn't afford to go down to Harris Teeter or Piggly Wiggly and shop,” he said.

Lowcountry Food Bank President Pat Walker said research shows about 10 percent of all seniors in South Carolina are “food insecure.”

“That simply means that a senior doesn't know where their next meal is going to come from,” Walker said. “It's important for seniors to know that there's help out there. Sometimes they just don't know.”

A 2008 report published by the Meals on Wheels Association of America ranked South Carolina second in the nation for food insecurity among senior adults, only faring better than seniors in Mississippi.

Groups across the state are trying to shed light on the issue. Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell will declare today Sustaining Our Seniors Day on the Statehouse steps. Leadership South Carolina raised $100,000 during a recent statewide campaign to raise awareness about senior hunger and help bolster local food banks.

“It's important for everyone to eat well, but seniors do have special needs that other ages don't,” said Stacy Renouf, a registered dietitian at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Vitamin B-12 deficiency and dehydration are two common problems faced by seniors who are malnourished, she said. Poor nutrition can manifest in more serious ways, too, including muscle loss, dementia and neurological problems.

“It can really hit any aspect of their health on some level,” Renouf said.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.