In 2014 three million (9%) U.S. households with seniors age 65 and older experienced food insecurity; 1.2 million that live alone also experienced food insecurity, according to the non-profit organization Feeding America. Poverty and food insecurity has been increasing in Massachusetts affecting more seniors than ever before. An estimated 20 percent of Massachusetts residents who suffer from food insecurity are seniors. And of course food insecure seniors are at an increased risk for chronic health conditions. (Project Bread Senior Hunger Fact Sheet)
“Many seniors live on a fixed income and are finding it increasingly difficult to afford food as housing and living costs rise in eastern Massachusetts,” said Catherine D’Amato, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Food Bank. “During the winter months with higher heating bills, this struggle becomes even greater.” continued D’Amato.
Towards the end of every month in the Shapiro Community Center at NewBridge on the Charles, a pile of grocery bags begins to grow in front of the community store. Filled with cereal, peanut butter, pasta, canned goods and more, the residents are giving back to the community by compiling their monthly donations to the Dedham Food Pantry.
On the last day of the month, a group of dedicated resident volunteers fill up their vehicles with all of this bounty, usually averaging 14 bags a month. They deliver it to the Dedham Food Pantry where it helps to fill the shelves and feed fellow Dedham residents who suffer from food insecurity, a population that includes many seniors.
NewBridge residents sought out community service opportunities when the community first opened in 2009 and beginning a year later, the newly founded Volunteer Outreach Committee at NewBridge began asking residents to consider donating any remaining funds to purchase groceries for the food pantry at the end of year.
“Since we were going to live in Dedham, we wanted to become good neighbors and reach out to the town of Dedham and so we did with the Dedham Food Pantry,” said NewBridge resident Frankie Wolff of the Volunteer Outreach Committee. “The people of NewBridge have been so giving…There is a spirit of giving, cooperation and sharing. I think it’s a community in the best sense of the word.”
Guided by NewBridge Rabbi Judy Ehrlich, the committee is made up of 12 residents who donate their time to several community outreach causes. Many more residents contribute food each month, making it all possible.
“The mission of this Committee is, ‘to help and to heal the community – one member at a time,’” said Rabbi Judy Ehrlich. “As a group of people who are quite privileged, they in turn wanted to show their appreciation in being part of the town of Dedham,” she said.
The Dedham Food Pantry has benefitted from the most generous level of donations of any charity served by the committee. Over the past six years, NewBridge has contributed an estimated 840 bags of groceries to the Dedham Food Pantry that serves over 200 families a month.
Brian Rogel, Dedham Food Pantry President, recognized the NewBridge senior volunteers as, “consistently among those very thoughtful and charitable groups that make it possible for us to serve over 200 families each month. We know it takes great coordination, effort and muscle to deliver those robust bags of groceries each month. As you know, the food you donate goes right onto the shelves for our clients to bring into their own homes.”
The NewBridge senior volunteers and donations have had “a big impact” on the Dedham Food Pantry said Lyn Rogal, the nonprofit organization’s co-president. “They’ve really jumped on the idea of donating food, so we’ve continued to get quite a bit of food from NewBridge residents,” said Rogal.
Because NewBridge is also a strong multigenerational community, you can sometimes find students from the Dedham Schools partnering with the residents on delivery day to load all of the bags into the food pantry located in the Dedham Plaza.
Senior volunteer opportunities to donate, collect and shelve food are available at community food banks in towns and cities around Massachusetts. Project Bread’s toll-free Food Source Hotline is a comprehensive statewide counseling and referral service for people facing hunger.
There are food pantries in Massachusetts from Abington to Worcester. A complete list can be found by clicking here.
Learn more about the community outreach work of the NewBridge Volunteer Outreach Committee by viewing the video below about committee member Frankie Wolff and her volunteer work.