"About one-third of the District's elderly [ages 50 and up] "are at risk of going hungry or they are experiencing it now, and that's unacceptable," Jones said.
She said the recent food drive was "very successful" having employed the assistance of several volunteers from various organizations who picked up and distributed food to the Capital Area Food Bank.
Food bank workers, in turn, distributed the items to pantries all over the District.
"This was our third annual food drive and we had 109 collection stations, including [at least] one in each of the eight wards," Jones said. "We also appreciated Safeway and Giant that agreed to allow us to pick up food at their stores."
The USDA disclosed in a 2010 survey that hunger, or low food insecurity, occurs when one or more people in a household experiences hunger over the course of a year because they couldn't afford enough food.
The agency, which also monitors the extent and severity of hunger in this country, reported that Wards 7 and 8 harbor the District's highest poverty rates and that of the 43 full-service grocery stores, four are in Ward 7 and three in Ward 8. In comparison to Ward 3, which has the city's highest income bracket, has 11 full-service grocery stores.
Page Crosland, spokesperson for the Capital Area Food Bank, said because of budget woes, the District threatened last month to eliminate its portion of the funding for the seniors food program. The program normally accommodates meals for some 6,600 residents – many of them seniors – and its closure would have left them to seek out other resources to avert hunger.
In the past, the seniors food program has been supported equally by both the federal government and the D.C. Department of Health (DOH). However, after the city indicated it could no longer make provisions, the Greater Washington Urban League agreed to help until the end of December.
"We met with the city to talk about helping to keep the program going, and our CEO said we would do whatever it takes to keep it alive," Crosland said. "We are now trying to find out the cost for us to run the program, and if we can afford it, to do so for less than the city."
Crosland said that otherwise, the program, which allows seniors to continue to receive a free bag of groceries each month, is being analyzed to determine exact operational costs.
"It's possible that we could run the program, as we have a distribution system and a warehouse," said Crosland.
While it's been hard to localize data on how many of D.C.'s seniors go to bed hungry, Alexandra Ashbrook, director of D.C. Hunger Solutions, said the city's hungry data is not necessarily in sync with its poverty rate.
Ashbrook said, however, one of the programs her organization works with is the food stamp initiative, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNP).
"Part of our effort is working to make sure D.C.'s senior residents know about food stamps and to debunk some of the myths [where] a lot of them think that they only qualify for the minimum benefits," Ashbrook said.
"[The truth is that] in most cases, they're going to qualify for a higher benefit than just a few dollars worth of stamps each month."
Ashbrook further noted that sometimes pride can be a deterrent for seniors applying for food stamps.
"They're embarrassed, so we try to remind them that as former workers, they have put money into the system and that they are entitled to SNP benefits," Ashbrook said. "The food stamps also serve as a health intervention by improving nutrition, and if a senior applies for them they should so do with the confidence that they are not taking money away from a young family because anyone who is eligible can apply and get them."