By Sanjane Ceesay
On December 16, 2014, I travelled to Medford in southern Oregon and attended the AARP Southern Oregon Volunteer Year-End Celebration. I enjoyed meeting with people from various organizations, especially those working on hunger issues, and it was a great opportunity to discuss the AARP Foundation’s Drive to End Hunger.
The Drive to End Hunger initiative addresses hunger and food insecurity by raising community awareness, providing food to local food banks, and identifying long-term solutions that will help end chronic hunger for Oregonians 50 and older. The goal of the campaign is to encourage those who do not have enough food to sign up for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and to reduce social barriers that discourage eligible people from applying. I also need to recruit volunteers to conduct outreach in their communities, and provide applications and enrollment assistance to eligible older adults. By establishing collaborative relationships with other organizations, I hope to recruit volunteers in many more communities than I can contact by myself.
I talked to a lot of people that night. Almost all of them referred me to Phillip Yates, Nutrition Programs Director for ACCESS, the community action agency of Jackson County. ACCESS provides emergency food boxes and other assistance in the Medford area, which fits perfectly with the Drive to End Hunger campaign. Phillip and I met two days later for a great conversation, then made plans to continue the discussion about ways we can work together to recruit more volunteers.
My trip to Medford reminded me of the complexity of the work needed to make Oregon the kind of place we all want to live. Nelson Mandela said, “A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of. It always seems impossible until it’s done.” It is exciting to meet people with a passion for ending hunger, poverty, and other social problems. We can do amazing things when we stay in touch and maintain a clear focus on our shared goal.
A strong team of volunteers and a spirit of collaboration is the foundation for changes that are bold, obvious, inspiring, encouraging, and engaging. Our challenge is to inspire community members who learn about our programs to want to get involved, to offer time and talent, and to be excited about volunteering to help their communities. I feel a great sense of positive anticipation as we move into 2015.