The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines community as “a unified body of individuals” or “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common”. But for Jo Packard, Co-Coordinator of the Riverhead AARP Volunteers, and her team, community means so much more than that.
“It’s all the people we’re helping and the feeling of unity that comes from people helping one another,” Jo says. “Our community is our neighbors and people don’t have to live next door to be your neighbors”.
The philosophy of the Riverhead Volunteer Team is simple: Listen to people, assess the needs, and reach out and touch those very real needs within the community.
“Our team is service oriented and we do whatever we can to help people,” Jo pointed out. “We really step up to the plate and try to meet the needs of our community as best we can”.
And meet the needs of the community they have—in 2014 the team helped facilitate various programs throughout the community, like SNAP & healthy food seminars, financial seminars, educational seminars, multiple food drives and advocacy support programs.
Much of their volunteer work focuses on assisting those in the community who are food insecure. The team has executed multiple community-wide food drives to help support this population.
This April, the team hosted the annual ‘Spring Into Action’ food drive. The collection generated over 2,000 pounds of food, which was distributed to local food pantries throughout Riverhead.
“Our Team gets great gratification through assisting our community with the various programs we conduct”, Jo said.
Last October, the Riverhead AARP Volunteer Team partnered with the VFWs from Rocky Point and Riverhead, to sponsor the Veterans Food Drive and the whole community got involved. Local schools in Rocky Point, Riverhead and Shoreham-Wading River participated, as did many of the community businesses, merchants and organizations. The goal was to collect and distribute 5,000 pounds of food to local Veterans and their families in the area who were food insecure. But the team collected 4.5 tons of food—over 9,000 pounds—almost double their goal.
“We never expected to collect 9,000 pounds,” says Jo. “Almost everybody in the community participated in some way to help make this a success and we couldn’t have done it without them”.
The Riverhead team hopes to expand the reach of the Veterans Food Drive this year to include additional neighborhoods like Mount Sinai and Miller Place.
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Written by guest blogger: Alexandra Loscalzo is pursuing a Master’s degree in corporate communications at Georgetown University. In addition to writing for AARP, she has written for the Boston Globe, Deutsche Bank, and Wayfair, LLC.