More than 6,000 volunteers of all ages and races gathered on the National Mall Tuesday, Sept. 11 for a day of service in efforts to combat hunger among the country’s seniors and raise awareness about senior poverty — packing more than 2.5 million meals that will be donated to area food banks and distributed to local seniors in need.
The AARP Foundation’s 2018 Summer of Service to Seniors Meal Pack Challenge, first held in 2011, culminated in the District after two previous meal pack challenges in Memphis, July 28 and Chicago, Aug. 4.
“Hunger is a health issue,” said Lisa Marsh Ryerson, AARP Foundation president. “Seniors who are food insecure are 50 percent more likely to have diabetes, 60 percent more likely to have congestive heart failure or a heart attack, and three times more likely to suffer from depression. Since 2011, we have provided more than 41 million meals to meet the daily food needs of hungry seniors.”
“These meal pack events not only lessen the daily burden of hunger so many vulnerable older adults face but also help raise awareness about the epidemic of food insecurity among seniors.”
A 2016 Census Bureau survey indicates the number of people aged 65 and older living in poverty had increased from 4.2 million to 4.6 million since 2015. And according to the 2010 Census, more than 10 million Americans age 50 or older struggle every day with limited or inadequate access to affordable, nutritious food.
And on a day during which many Americans look for ways to improve the quality of life for others, with lingering memories about the devastating effects of September 11 which occurred 17 years ago, the seniors meal pack event allows the AARP Foundation to bring together nonprofit, government and corporate stakeholders in the food and health sectors, intent on reforming the food supply system by creating solutions to fight food insecurity and hunger. In addition, seniors in the U.S., those 65 or older, face the additional challenge of limited mobility, making it that much harder to access adequate food.
In the District as in other cities earlier this summer, volunteers made the difference — and in their own communities for those who may live right next door.
“These are wonderful opportunities for everyone to participate in helping their neighbors and to feel the sense of accomplishment that comes with doing something good for someone else,” Ryerson said.
“Food insecurity among older Americans is a very real issue affecting our neighbors in cities across the U.S.; it’s critical that we raise awareness and inspire action,” said Leslie Gillin, president of Co-Brand Cards at Chase and leading corporate sponsor.
Data from Feeding America indicates that nearly 5 million senior citizens currently nationwide face hunger. After a lifetime of hard work, 63 percent of the households with older adults (50+) that the nonprofit organization serves, find themselves facing an impossible choice — buy groceries or medical care. And as the baby-boom generation ages, the number of seniors facing hunger is only expected to increase.
Several volunteers from the greater Washington area shared their views on why they came out to support the initiative in a country that produces far more food than it needs for domestic consumption but which still impacts millions of Americans because of insufficient money to buy food, neighborhood deprivation and agricultural policy.
Michael Smith, 51, Sutton Hall: ” I’m volunteering since it is 9/11 and I’m a veteran. I feel like it was a good thing to do. My mother and my mother-in-law are elderly and I understand that they need help so that is why I’m here.”
Goregana Jones, 77, Silver Spring: “I feel blessed that I retired from the government after working more than 40 years at OSHA with the administrative law judges. Now, I want to give back. Our government should provide more help for the elderly by having more programs like this.”
Jessica Leiter: “I’m one of seven teachers and two counselors at Springfield Estates Elementary School in Springfield, VA who came with all of our sixth grade students for the third consecutive year. One of our students had been volunteering with her parents and when she told her counselor, who then told administration, we all agreed that this would be a good way for children to give back and also earn their community service credits.”
Carla Hall, 54, chef, TV personality and spokeswoman for AARP Credit Cards with Chase: “Today, 9/11, is a day of service. We’re on the National Mall in a big tent with thousands of volunteers and a sea of red hair nets, bits of yellow that identify the team leaders and the energy is incredible. We are all here for the sole purpose of packing a million meals for senior hunger relief. As I get older, my mother also gets older. When my father was alive, he like so many older people, began to eat less. But our seniors are often so isolated that if they don’t have adequate resources, like my dad, sometimes he had to choose between food and medicine. And they don’t tell anyone. Hunger doesn’t have a particular face so you never know if your neighbors are dealing with food insecurity. I think that it is so important to know that 9 million older adults are dealing with this — sometimes finding it difficult to get food for themselves, sometimes for someone else who may live with them, like a grandchild.”
Brigette Squire contributed to this article.