May 31, 2013
by Jaspreet Bindra

Jaspreet Bindra is a Programs Capacity Associate at Feeding America National Office. She has focused on child and senior hunger this year and shares her experience organizing a volunteer event in honor of Older Americans Month.

Once a month, I take a few hours out of my day and volunteer at a local pantry in my neighborhood where fresh produce is the star of the show on the third Monday of every month. Clients line up well before the start of the distribution and the line wraps around the block. I've gotten to know many of the regulars, including mothers with small children. Being a new mother myself has given me a whole different sense of providing for my children. It's also kept me very aware of my present life.

Today's distribution, however, was a different experience for me and my colleagues. In honor of Older Americans Month, a group of 10 colleagues joined forces to volunteer at a senior center on the north side of Chicago. Volunteering for seniors gave us all a chance to look ahead to our future and we all related with the clients we served in different ways. We walked into a bustling center where some folks were exercising, others were playing pool and some were browsing on the two computers in the lobby. No one was lined outside the building. One colleague commented, "it was particularly meaningful to volunteer at the Levy Senior Center as it's just a mile away from my home, and a building that I've passed so many times and never visited. I was surprised at the amount of activity in the building — line dancing lessons, coffee/gift shop, workout room, French lessons — and the twice-monthly food pantry where we volunteered."

Most of the seniors had lunch provided by the center and were given a number to line up for the pantry distribution. Each member of our group was paired with a senior volunteer and off we went distributing items like canned chicken, oatmeal, lettuce, fruits and much more to the seniors. Some of the clients volunteered their time to help bridge the gap between their medication and food. They were very lively and welcoming to our staff.

It struck me that seniors, unlike younger clients, were either eager to engage in conversation or avoid eye contact altogether. It got me thinking that many of these seniors are likely avoiding eye contact out of pride. When you've worked your whole life to provide for your family it has to be hard to accept what some call food distributions a "handout." I don't blame them. Our society has stigmatized this segment of our society for seeking help but the fact is that more and more seniors are food insecure today than in the past. Based on data from 2011, 4.8 million seniors are food insecure which is double the number of food insecure seniors in 2001.

Our time at the senior center concluded with cutting and passing out cake to all attendees in honor of Older Americans Month. These folks were celebrated today for being in their 70s and 80s. The oldest seniors came to the front of the room and stated their name and age while the rest of us clapped and cheered them on. It felt ironic to be seemingly forgotten by the outside world and celebrated by your peers inside the senior center.

These seniors are your grandparents, parents, neighbors, and even your old accountants and nurses who have fallen upon hard times. It's time we show heart and give a part of ourselves to this population. Volunteering at your local pantry is a good start.

Tags: Senior Hunger , Illinois

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