When she was 25 years old, Danita Bowe had her first stroke. Years later, she had another. And then another. In February, she had a heart attack. Danita survived each ordeal, but each episode took their toll.

Now 59 years old, Danita struggles to move around. She uses a walker and needs assistance getting in and out of vehicles. Her disability would be challenging on its own. But because Danita can’t work, she lives on a fixed income, which doesn’t provide her with enough money for nutritious food. So on top of disability, Danita must also live with food insecurity.

“I just don’t have the strength or stamina to get the food I need,” she said.

To fill that gap, Danita receives fresh produce, protein and shelf-stable groceries from a food delivery program operated by a Greater Chicago Food Depository partner food pantry in her neighborhood. And while that program helps keep Danita afloat, there are thousands of other individuals like her who live with a disability and don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

“I just don’t have the strength or stamina to get the food I need.”

Danita Bowe, research participant and food pantry client

A study released in June 2017 by the Food Depository took a close look at that population and came to definitive conclusions about how hunger affects low-income individuals with disabilities in Cook County. Some of the findings include:

Food insecurity is higher among adults with disabilities, especially working-age adults

An estimated 31 percent of households with a working-age member with a disability in Cook County are food insecure. That’s compared to just 8 percent of households with working-age adults with no disabilities.

Low-income adults with disabilities face numerous obstacles to a healthy diet and current supports aren’t adequate

Disability benefits often do not cover the cost of living. Program eligibility guidelines, based on age and severity of disability, do not accurately capture everyone in need.

Low-income adults with disabilities need increased access to medically-tailored, home-delivered meals

For an individual with a disability, accessing food assistance programs can be physically and emotionally difficult, time consuming and prohibitively expensive. It can also be challenging for low-income individuals to obtain food recommended for special diets such as diabetic friendly, , allergy sensitive and more.

Accessibility improvements at food assistance programs are needed to alleviate barriers to food security

Many study participants reported being discouraged from using the traditional food pantry network when in need because of uncomfortable and long wait times, outdoor lines in adverse weather, lack of ramps and elevators at buildings and uncertainty in what food would be available.

To read the full report, Food Insecurity Among Low Income Adults with Disabilities in Cook County, visit chicagosfoodbank.org/disabilities.