An estimated 3.6 percent of Connecticut seniors face hunger as an issue, according to the AARP Foundation.

A video conference call broadcast state and national concerns over hunger, poverty and aging in Hartford Thursday afternoon between the AARP Foundation in Washington, D.C. and 26 AARP locations across the country.

“Far too many seniors are suffering behind closed doors,” said Lori Strauss, AARP’s benefits outreach program coordinator.

Much of the discussion centered on AARP’s Supplemental Food Assistance Program, nicknamed SNAP. SNAP provides low-income people with benefits on an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card for groceries and shopping at other food outlets.

AARP Connecticut representatives urge seniors facing hunger to submit the application for assistance. AARP offers assistance submitting the application and works to combat the stigma associated with receiving program benefits.

“The application can be a little daunting, but there’s help out there,” said AARP Connecticut’s Associate State Director Erica Michalowski.

Michalowski said AARP Connecticut tries to push the need for local food and clothing drives and they plan to hold a statewide drive in November.

The conference’s keynote speaker, Columbia University’s Dean of Social Work Jeanette Takamura, stressed how food plays a central role in life.

“Food has personal and cultural meaning tied to our identities and to our communities,” she said. “Those at risk of hunger and food insecurity deal with more than just the physical effects of hunger.”

The physical effects, however, show older adults facing premature aging and an increased likelihood of dependency at a younger age, she said.

Takamura said outreach programs must try to adopt healthy, appetizing options that are both culturally diverse and age appropriate. Information must be made equally available to both communities of color and the general community, as well.

Strauss stressed that anyone can help fight hunger, starting today.

She urged people to donate food or money, share news about SNAP on the Internet and through friends or to join a volunteer program.

“There’s no question that we need more hearts and hands working toward hunger relief,” she said.

AARP is also collecting ideas over the next two weeks for a “hunger relief toolkit” and encourages anyone to e-mail ideas to: