BATH — Rita Losee, 78, of West Bath is hiking five miles every day from Jan. 1 to March 21 to raise money for the Good Shepherd Food Bank amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Losee said she wants to simultaneously encourage people of all ages to exercise while supporting the Good Shepherd Food Bank because “seniors can’t be healthy unless they have the food they need.”

Food insecurity stretches beyond empty cupboards and going to bed hungry. Those who struggle to put food on the table are more susceptible to chronic diseases and health conditions including asthma, diabetes, mental health issues, hypertension and obesity, according to a 2019 Needs Assessment report from Sagadahoc County.

This can be especially damaging for the 16% of Maine seniors who are at risk of going hungry, according to the Good Shephard Food Bank, and that number has likely increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rita Losee, shown here in August, is hiking five miles every day to raise money for the Good Shepherd Food Bank. She also wants to encourage seniors to stay active amid the COVID-19 pandemic Contributed photo

“Before the pandemic, we had 12% of Maine households were food insecure,” said Robin McCarthy, annual giving officer for the Good Shepherd Food Bank. “We’re expecting that number to grow by 8%.”

One year ago, 180,000 Mainers were food insecure, according to McCarthy. She said the food bank expects that number to grow to 215,000 after the pandemic.

“It’s a shocking thing that human beings can live their entire lives working hard and saving, then find themselves in a position in their later years when they’re not able to get the food they need,” said McCarthy.

Beyond helping fight food insecurity, Losee said she wants to encourage seniors to stay active to reduce their risk of developing complications from COVID-19, should they contract it.

“What if the pain and fear that came out of 2020 motivated us to start taking care of our bodies?” Losee said. “We have control over how we treat our bodies. I want people to look at me and think ‘Well if that old broad can do it, so can I.”

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, of the 438 Mainers who have died from COVID-19 since March, 120 were in their 70s and 255 were over 80 years old.

In addition to age, the CDC lists obesity as one of the risk factors contributing to serious complications from COVID-19.

Carl DeMars, vice president of Ambulatory Care at Mid Coast Hospital, said good nutrition, regular exercise and getting enough sleep can help anyone reduce their risk of developing complications from COVID-19.

“Having a good diet and a fit body are certainly helpful when fighting any infectious disease like COVID-19,” said DeMars. “Especially in the pandemic when seniors are much more isolated, getting outside and taking a walk six feet away from a friend in the fresh air can help.”

Losee said her maternal grandfather who had Parkinson’s Disease inspired her to stay active regardless of her age. Despite the decease making it difficult for him to walk, Losee said her grandfather would walk over a mile from within his house.

“He kept moving, and that’s critically important for all of us, no matter what our age is,” she said. “Very often it’s hard to take that first step when you’re sitting in your warm house. But, a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and that works whether you’re a planet or a person.”

If someone isn’t able to donate to Losee’s cause financially, McCarthy encouraged people to check on their elderly friends and neighbors to see if they need help. People can also volunteer with their local nonprofits to deliver meals to homebound seniors, which has been a challenge for food banks amid the pandemic, McCarthy said. Previously, seniors made up the majority of the food delivery volunteer base, but now they’re staying home to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19.

“Fundraisers like Rita’s are incredibly valuable,” McCarthy said. “If nothing else, it signals to seniors that they’re not alone, and their community cares about them.”

Online donations to Losee’s fundraiser can be made here.


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