Many Florida seniors struggle to afford food - FOX 13 News

Many Florida seniors struggle to afford food

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

They're the revered grandmother and grandfather, the endearing aunt or uncle. They worked hard all their life, many at minimum wage jobs, and raised families. Now, they're left with nothing for retirement.

Barbara Gay is a perfect example of this. The Tampa native worked her whole life.

"I used to pick strawberries down in Plant City, Florida, and during that time, they were paying three cents a quart for strawberries to pick them and that's how I made my school money. And to me it was fun."

Once surrounded by a field of food, the 80-year old now can't even afford to put food on her own table.

"They want to go up on the water, garbage rate, so how can a person make it, with everything going up?" she asked.

Consumed with trying to take care of her health, Barbara is grateful to get help from Hillsborough County.

"I was talking to the father this morning, how glad I am for the lady that come and do for me, because she is a big help to me."

The food she gets fills an otherwise empty freezer.

"I just put it in there and take out what I want and put it in the stove."

One in seven Americans are now on food stamps. The first-ever senior hunger report card ranks Florida ninth in the nation for the number of elderly who need food assistance. The problem is, only a third of the seniors who qualify actually go through the process to get the help. Some say it's humiliating.

"You have to learn how to make ends meet -- and sometimes you eat a little better, sometimes you don't -- and do what you have to do," explained Marta Machado, who remembers the days she works to support her kids.

"I was at a point where my daughters would have to eat but I would go to bed with a cup of coffee and a piece of stale bread."

Today, she lives at an assisted living facility where lunch is served daily on a tray.

"I think sometimes if I didn't have that program, I wouldn't have lunch. I'm very, very grateful for that program."

It's food for her soul and faith in a program that helps keep her nourished long into their golden years.

"I think that's what helps me get through it, I am grateful for what little I do have."

Since there is a low percentage of seniors applying for food stamps, the state of Florida revamped the system a few years ago, making it more user friendly. The hope is that more qualifying people would get the help they needed.

There's also a help hotline for seniors -- 1-800-96-ELDER.

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