DES MOINES, Wash. -- In a well-appointed condominium overlooking Puget Sound, 93-year-old Harry Fox prefers to spend his time mostly alone.

Gadgets and computers are scattered around his living room, a sign of his Boeing engineering background and his love of tinkering with electronics.

But every Wednesday, the self-described loner spends a few hours playing chess with a man who, until a few months ago, was a complete stranger.

"I'd say it's a friendship," said Roger Siddall, Fox's chess playing partner. "You play with somebody long enough, you have to."

"Get inside your head," Fox interrupted jokingly.

The pair were introduced through the Des Moines non-profit Friend-to-Friend America. Siddall and his wife volunteer with the organization.

The pair were introduced through the Des Moines non-profit Friend-to-Friend America. Siddall and his wife volunteer with the organization.

Friend-to-Friend has operated for 42 years, grouping lonely senior citizens with volunteers for companionship, at no cost.

"I've been kind of on pause for quite a while," said Terry Hiatt, 65. "I'd like to see things get moving again."

Hiatt was a musician who fell on hard times later in life. He now lives alone in a Renton group home, unable to travel by himself because of his failing short term memory.

Friend-to-Friend paired him with Wayne Lindy, a volunteer who is not much younger and also plays guitar.

"It can be lonely if you have all this time to yourself," said Lindy. "You've got to get involved with something else."

"It's a real health crisis," said Lisa Slavik, director of Friend-to-Friend. "When you don't have someone to live for, you often don't live long."

Slavik's office is overwhelmed with requests for friends. Back in November, it had 92 seniors that had not been paired.

The only thing worse than that, said Slavik, is a subfolder on her computer titled "Passed Away Before Matched."

"That gets me," she said, "when I look at the old referrals when they're in their 90s. I just know we're running against the clock to connect them before they pass."

Studies show with more seniors in our population, there are more elderly people feeling alone and abandoned, a situation that has a higher rate of death.

Slavik's goal is to prevent the tragic and increasing reality of living and dying alone. But her motivation also comes from a Friend-to-Friend pairing in Renton.

"I'm here to make her feel loved," said volunteer Harriet Thomsen. "If I can communicate that to her, I've done what I came here to do."

Thomsen visits Irma for about a half hour every week.

Irma was injured skiing six years ago and has lost the ability to speak and use her motor skills. She is also Slavik's mother.

"She had all this stuff she loved," she explained. "Now she only has one friend that still visits her."

While Slavik is able to visit her mother frequently, it's crucial for friends to visit as well.

"It just becomes one dreary day of this, one after the other," said Thomsen. "It's important for people in the community to come in, to bring new stories in, and to include them."

Friend-to-Friend is in a constant battle for funding. Last year, it nearly folded. It operates on a $40,000 annual budget while supporting 600 seniors. The non-profit gets almost no government funding and instead depends on grants and donations.

However, there seems to be little doubt senior loneliness is a growing problem. Slavik hopes the public realizes the need.

"I look forward to the encounters," said Fox, in the middle of winning three chess games in a row. "Not only to play chess, but because Roger has a pleasant and engaging personality.

"Inside this body," he added, "There's still a young guy trying to get out."