In our small New England town, community service is an expectation and a privilege. All of our 8th graders must log in 8 hours of community service as part of the formal curriculum. Students choose from a range of opportunities. Some are interested in helping out our retired citizens. They might shovel out elderly neighbors during our crazy winter storms. Or organize a singing group to perform at a local nursing home. The local Council on Aging sometimes needs tech support and the food pantry that needs shelves restocked. We’re talking about creating a souper bowl of caring.
An up-close look at hunger
Several years ago when my younger daughter was in 8th grade, she chose to work at the food pantry. Food is an important part of our family. Dinners are a nightly sit-down affair, if even for only 15 minutes. And our holiday traditions include Christian and Jewish classic meals. Plus we cook for Cinco de Mayo just because it’s fun. We all go to the grocery store and everyone chooses what they want for a meal or for a treat. We never wonder if there’s enough money to pay for a cart loaded to overflowing with our favorite foods.
So, it was interesting that my daughter wanted to work at the pantry. Because 8th graders are young, they also need a parent chaperone. That was me. I hung out at the Community Council building while the kids stocked and restocked shelves. They also did some clean up and helped out Sandy, who runs the place.
Naturally curious, I couldn’t help but ask about the services that are provided at our local Community Council. We live in a relatively well-to-do town. And frankly, I was surprised that we had a food pantry at all. Who was coming in for assistance on a weekly basis? Were they local residents or did families from less well-off communities come in?
The Need Extends Beyond Souper Bowls
Turns out that some 200 families in our town use the local food pantry. And, the vast majority of them are retired! That really shocked me. But Sandy explained things practically. In a town where property taxes are high and utilities are expensive, it’s generally higher-priced living. Yet, seniors on a fixed income often need a little help to keep their own kitchens stocked. They are still independent. They want to (or have to) live in their homes or apartments in the town where they raised their kids. And sadly, they are often alone.
The food pantry provides a critical resource for many of our local retirees. In addition to the food pantry, the Community Council provides several no-cost services. They provide medical supplies such as wheelchairs, crutches, walkers and so on. There is a thrift shop that helps our seniors find much needed winter gear and small gift items. And, the van service picks up seniors for medical appointments. In addition, several council members set up a “boutique” at local nursing homes to bring shopping to the residents.
A Wake-Up Call
In a land-of-plenty, it was quite a wake-up call that our own retired neighbors would need some assistance. As a result of this community service work, we now support the Community Council. Sometimes we make cash donations. Other times, we shop at Costco and add to the cart. These bags of groceries help stock up the shelves with requested food items.
Everyone tends to make contributions in November and December for the holidays. And that is very nice. But Sandy shared a helpful hint. The times the pantry runs low is February and March. And again in the summer when 75% of our town heads to Cape Cod for the season. The retirees on a fixed income, however, don’t leave town. Instead, they need to stock up on food basics.
It is exciting to learn about a national organization helping to combat hunger in America on Super Bowl Sunday. The Souper Bowl of Caring uses “the energy of the Super Bowl to mobilize youth in a national effort for good. The goal is to care for people in their local communities who are hungry and those in need.”
The effort comes just when local food pantries are getting short on supplies. Read about this terrific organization at their website.
I’ll be checking around my town to see if any youth group is participating in Souper Bowl Sunday. Seems a good idea to make a contribution. And, if not, my family will make our own “Souper Bowl” donations to our food pantry.
What will you be doing today to help the retired citizens in your hometown before the big game?