Turning Theory Into Action: Service to End Senior Hunger

The AARP Foundation Meal Pack Challenge is a day of service where local volunteers come together to pack 1 million nutritious meals for seniors experiencing hunger. For the last 5 years, over 3,000 members of the Washington, D.C. community have gathered on the National Mall to join in the foundation’s mission to help end senior poverty. This year’s Meal Pack Challenge took place on the 18th anniversary of Sept. 11 to pay tribute to those who lost their lives during the attacks and to emphasize the importance of coming together to help rebuild humanity.

The Root Cause Coalition team members joined almost 5,000 volunteers in multiple assembly lines to scoop, weigh and package the healthy food. The meal is red lentil jambalaya, a low-sodium, vegan and gluten-free meal made of red lentils, rice, dehydrated vegetables and pink Himalyan salt. It is packed with protein and fiber designed to meet the nutritional needs of seniors. Once packaged, the meals are sent to Root Cause Coalition Member Capital Area Food Bank to be distributed to seniors in need.

The Root Cause Coalition team members at the Washington, D.C. Meal Pack Challenge

Along with offering community building and volunteer service, the Meal Pack Challenge is also a learning opportunity for those in attendance. Many volunteers arrive unaware of senior hunger’s prominence in the community, but the capacity of the event teaches them about the urgency of the issue, says Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of the AARP Foundation.

“Food insecurity and poverty are intertwined,” said Ryerson. “19 percent of seniors in the District of Columbia are hungry everyday. We know that hunger is a health issue, and we need to increase access to good nutritious food, affordably, so that all people have enough to eat on a reliable basis.”

Older adults experiencing hunger are more likely to suffer from diabetes, congestive heart failure, a heart attack and depression. Access to consistent healthy foods have shown to help alleviate certain diseases and improve health, reducing health care costs over all.

“It is our responsibility at the AARP Foundation to lift up the issue not just of senior hunger in the DMV but also of senior poverty, and to be sure that we are always looking out for our own neighbors,” Ryerson said.

Since the meal pack inception in 2015, over 5 million meals have been packed. The challenge began with Summer Service to Seniors, a series of opportunities started by the AARP Foundation with a mission to create economic opportunity for older adults and resolve food insecurity through volunteering.

The Root Cause Coalition team members Rachel Carlson (middle left) and Hannah Miller (right) weighing ingredients for the Meal Pack Challenge

“My favorite part about the event is spending the day with incredible humans — all of our volunteers who see a need, are compassionate, collaborative and who want to meet that need for neighbors who are in trouble,” said Ryerson.

The Meal Pack Challenge demonstrates the impact of a collective purpose to improve the lives of others. The AARP Foundation and Root Cause Coalition believe that collaboration is the best approach to improve the health of individuals, for only together can we end senior poverty for good.

The AARP Foundation, a Root Cause Coalition Founding Partner and charitable affiliate of AARP, works to end senior poverty by helping vulnerable older adults build economic opportunity and social connectedness. For more volunteer opportunities with the AARP Foundation, visit their website https://www.aarp.org/aarp-foundation/get-involved/.