The home-delivered lunch Mary Williams gets from the York County Council on Aging means a lot.
A monthly Social Security check is all the 79-year-old Rock Hill woman gets to make bills go away until next month.
“It’s rough to make it stretch,” said Williams, a retired cafeteria worker.
Asked what she thought of the 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase that she and tens of millions of other Americans who worked all their lives will get next year, Williams was succinct.
These seniors know that utility bills from the city of Rock Hill or Duke Energy went up by 5 or 6 percent again this year after the same thing last year. Food costs more than ever. In Rock Hill, utility costs have gone up 30 percent in a decade.
Social Security that pays the bills for so many of these older people has not gone up 30 percent. Not even 3 percent.
1.5 percent. The same as last year, which was the lowest in decades.
At one home where meals were delivered Tuesday, the 87-year-old woman had worked her whole life cleaning other people’s clothes and toilets and floors – all while raising her own family.
America is going to give her 1.5 percent more. In the mail slot was her utility bill. There was also a gas bill.
Throw in property taxes and anything else that costs more, and the math of a 1.5 percent increase doesn’t equal what goes out every month from a fixed income.
“It seems to get harder every year,” said retired Winthrop University custodian Arsonia Mann, as she accepted her home-delivered meal.
Julie Venable, 96, a retired nurse, spoke for so many seniors as she received her meal.
“I need it,” she said of her Social Security.
The York County Council on Aging provided a staggering 101,709 meals last year to seniors – all of whom are on Social Security. Many are delivered. Some are eaten at senior centers.
Many are difference between hunger and not.
Another difference between hunger and starving are volunteers such as Maryanne Genus, who leaves her job at a law office to deliver meals to people.
“They deserve everything that we can offer,” Genus said as she delivered meals Tuesday.
Any person on Social Security worked forever to earn it. And now, the increase to cover costs of living doesn’t even cover the increase in the light bill each month.
“$16,” said Kathy Moore, a senior herself who helps deliver meals to people even older than she. “That’s how much the 1.5 percent increase was last year, $16 a month. My rent went up $21. The $16 was gone before I saw it.”
Seniors continue to try to stretch fixed incomes to cover bills and expenses, said Wendy Duda, executive director of the senior center. The demand for services is so high, she said, that there is a waiting list for home-delivered meals.
Another thousand or so people of York County’s 25,000 or so people age 65 and older have been identified by the center as suffering from “food insecurity.”
That means older people without enough to eat.
These are people who worked in mills, factories, as domestics, whatever, forever until backs and knees wore out – or until the mills were closed and moved to countries where workers are paid $1 a day.
The workers at the senior center prepare the meals each day, with the pride that their work will help keep someone out of hunger for another day.
Jan Barnhart and Beulah Vinson – herself 71 and still working – help.
Tuesday was ham and sweet potatoes, green beans, milk and an apple.
Mary Anderson helped package food, then scoured stockpots.
She is 74.
And still this lady is working because Social Security does not cover what she needs to survive after almost six decades of working.
Anderson was asked what the 1.5 percent raise will do.
“Not much,” she said. “Rich folks don’t worry about where the next dollar comes from. Everybody we feed, they worry.”
Then she went back to cleaning a stockpot that was almost as large as she.