Thursday, October 21, 2010
Metro columnist Dan Casey: Project 'a blessing' for low-income seniors
With donations to the Soup for Seniors project, even a small amount of food can help Roanoke-area senior citizens afford medicine, rent or utilities during the winter.
Eric Brady | The Roanoke Times
Linda Harshbarger (left) and Chenita Caldwell with the LOA Area Agency on Aging fill food bags for the fourth annual Soup for Seniors program.
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Sue Campbell and Ralph Owen stood before row upon row of empty brown paper grocery sacks in a community room at the Melrose Towers senior citizens complex in Roanoke.
One by one, the two volunteers filled them: 11 cans of soup, a can of tuna, two cans of Vienna sausages, one box of crackers, two cups of applesauce and two packets of instant oatmeal.
It doesn't sound like a lot of food, but for some needy senior citizens in this region, it can make the difference between affording medicine for a month during the winter and not.
"People stretch this out forever," Owen explained Tuesday. One woman told him she carefully cuts three Vienna sausages into one can of chicken noodle soup, providing lunch and dinner for a day.
"They can stretch this out for 10 days easily," Owen said. "It's incredible what they do."
In one sense, it's incredibly sad that Americans in their golden years are forced to ration canned miniature sausages and condensed chicken soup for sustenance.
But another thing that's incredible is the annual Soup for Seniors project now under way.
Readers, take note: Donations are flagging badly this year, and the project needs your help, soon. One of the challenges has been getting the word out. Another is the economy.
Soup for Seniors is not a charity, nor is it an organization overloaded with a paid staff that consumes resources. Nor will it ever solve the problem of hunger in America or even the Roanoke Valley.
That is real, and if you don't believe it, just check with any church food pantry or food bank.
The fall project is an all-volunteer effort run out of an office smaller than anyone's bedroom and some people's closets.
It has no budget for advertising, outreach, collections or distribution. Yet it has managed to feed, temporarily, about 10,000 senior citizens in the fall over the past three years.
"There is no budget," said Soup for Seniors founder Barbara James. Some people donate money, and every dime of the contributions is spent on food.
How to help
Soup for Seniors
- Donations may be made at any Bank of America, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, or Curves (gym for women) branch in the Roanoke Valley.
- If you want a tax-deductible receipt for your donation, you must make it at Melrose Towers, 3038 Melrose Avenue N.W., Roanoke, between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday to Friday.
- Crackers, canned soup, tuna, Vienna sausages, applesauce and oatmeal servings are appreciated.
- Donations end Friday, but the LOA office at Melrose Towers will be accepting them next week, too.
- For more information, call 985-9600.
In the first three years, Soup for Seniors collected roughly 88,000 cans of soup and other basic nonperishable foodstuffs.
But donations are down this year. With what the project has collected so far this month, volunteers will be lucky to distribute 600 bags of groceries. If you'd like to donate, now is the time.
James, an administrator with the LOA Area Agency on Aging who founded Soup for Seniors in 2007, said she's reminded of the need every day.
"We have people who call us up and ask if they can be placed on the list," James said. "I don't believe they would call if they didn't need the food."
James started Soup for Seniors as a project for Make a Difference Day, the largest national day of community service (it's the fourth Saturday in every October).
Her goal was filling 600 bags of groceries for needy senior citizens. But this community responded in an overwhelming way: She ended up with more than 3,000 bags.
That's a testament to the generosity of people in the Roanoke Valley.
Partners include Kroger and Food Lion, which donate the paper bags, Bank of America, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Curves, a chain of gyms for women. The chief partner is the Beta Chi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
Among the recipients are senior citizens who receive Meals on Wheels or who live in public housing or who are otherwise clients of the LOA in a region that stretches far beyond the city of Roanoke's boundaries.
Many live on monthly Social Security checks, which for the second year in a row won't contain a cost-of-living increase.
Rebecca Taylor, 64, has received a bag of groceries from the program since it started. She called it "a blessing."
"It means a lot because I'm on a limited income," Taylor told me Wednesday. "It helps me pay my rent, or my light bill," because she had money left over that she would otherwise spend on food.
"There's just a huge, huge need," said Linda Harshbarger, James' assistant.
Donna Speas of Roanoke was at Melrose Towers dropping off food Wednesday. She brought 10 cans of soup and two boxes of crackers.
"I like how simple it is," Speas said. "It means more to me than giving money."
What Speas meant is, when you give money to a good cause, it's abstract. You don't know where or how it will be spent, or if any will be raked off as administrative expenses.
But give soup, and you know exactly where it's going: into the gut of a hungry person.
It's crunch time for Soup for Seniors, folks, Now is the time to step up, and I know you will.
All donations are greatly appreciated, both by the volunteers in the LOA office and by the senior citizens who receive them.
Dan Casey's column runs Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.