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AARP New Jersey Volunteers Are Adapting, Finding New Ways to Help

Yvette Anderson, left, and her husband, Reggie Anderson, started MTN (Meet the Need), a nonprofit that supports various communities with food pantry and food giveaways. The couple were AARP New Jersey's 2020 Andrus Award winners.
Photo by Hannah Yoon

After more than a decade volunteering throughout New Jersey—and with thousands of people depending on their continued help—AARP members Yvette and Reggie Anderson, of Jackson, refused to let COVID-19 upend their efforts. 

As founders of the Freehold- based MTN (Meet the Need) Organization, the Andersons spent the past year reworking their nonprofit’s projects, which include backpacks for children, care packages for the homeless and Valentine’s Day cards for older adults. 

“We had to be very creative with how we were going to make these projects still go on, because we’d had a lot of personal contact with people,” said Yvette Anderson, 52. “We had to pivot.”

For their efforts, the Andersons received AARP New Jersey’s 2020 Andrus Award, the organization’s most prestigious volunteer honor. 

The award is named after AARP founder Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, whose personal motto, “To serve, not to be served,” remains its call to action today.

“The Andrus Award really does embody what our organization is at its core, which is a service- driven organization,” said Christine Newman, AARP New Jersey community outreach and volunteer engagement director.

“The Andersons are just so passionate about the work they do in their communities. It really does inspire others to join.”

Reggie Anderson, 50, said he and his wife quickly discounted early advice to focus on a single type of volunteer work. “That wouldn’t be enough for me.”

With their daughter, Jasmine Austin, 27, MTN’s community outreach director, and the help of dozens of volunteers—including their 6-year-old grandson and Reggie’s 84-year-old mother—the organization continued its work throughout the pandemic. 

When gathering at the nonprofit’s indoor food pantry was no longer safe, volunteers delivered groceries instead, especially to those wary of venturing to the store. They also distributed 400 prepared meals a week. And Jasmine and Reggie spent hours helping older adults register for their COVID-19 vaccinations. 

Going virtual

Throughout New Jersey, AARP volunteers have also continued their service efforts during the pandemic. 

With in-person events on hiatus, they helped transition the association’s popular Speakers Bureau events from libraries and community centers to Zoom rooms. Recent program topics included fraud prevention, caregiving and brain health—all offered virtually.

AARP New Jersey volunteers also aimed to ease loneliness among the state’s nursing home residents—many of whom have been isolated due to high rates of coronavirus infection in long-term care facilities—by writing them personalized monthly cards, Newman said. At one facility, residents receive a card to color as a relaxation activity.

Know a worthy volunteer? Nominations for AARP New Jersey’s 2021 Andrus Award are being accepted at through July 15. 

Nominees can be individuals, couples or partners who are
50 or older, whose achievements are voluntary and whose efforts reflect AARP’s vision and purpose: that all people age with dignity and choose how to live as they grow older. Nominees do not have to be AARP members
or volunteers.

Christina Hernandez Sherwood is a writer living in Collingswood, N.J.

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