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Soup for Seniors—Back with Another Successful Year!


If consumers were grocery shopping for crackers in early February in the Roanoke area to complement their homemade soup, they may have encountered bare shelves. And for the non-cook, the soup aisle may have been empty as well.

Supply chain issues? Nope! The Soup for Seniors Drive held annually in early February by the Local Office on Aging in collaboration with AARP Virginia was underway and people looking for canned soup or crackers may have been hard pressed to find either.

The goal this year was to collect 45,000 pounds of shelf stable, nonperishable, high nutrition food to distribute to 2,750 needy seniors in an area ranging from Roanoke to Covington.

Food insecurity is persistently a major problem for people on a fixed income, which is often minimal at best, but with recent inflation hitting the grocery store prices, the need has been exacerbated beyond expectations.

Over the past few years, Soup for Seniors donations have not been strong as part of the collateral damage of the pandemic. In 2022 numbers began to climb again and were only about 1,500 pounds below the goal, so this year’s collection by schools, churches, and businesses was begun in January.

Because donations are still coming in, according to Ashley Turner, the Local Office on Aging’s S4S project director, final totals are still being updated, but Turner reported that the original goal of poundage was surpassed and the number of bags being distributed it still growing.

For 17 years now, the drive has been used to supplement the Meals on Wheels and the food box delivery programs to ensure that shut-ins, the disabled, and those living at or near the poverty level, are prepared for the cold winter with its threats of inclement weather. The bags delivered ensure they have access to a reserve of food if daily meals or food boxes cannot be delivered as scheduled.

Roanoke Times journalist Dan Casey, a favorite cheerleader for the event, cited in his annual column touting the importance of the drive, that it is a “zero overhead charity serving thousands.” As such, the drive depends entirely on volunteers to man the collection sites, to receive and weigh the donations, check dates, sort, bag and deliver the contributions to the targeted recipients.

Critical to the collection over the years has been the Roanoke County Schools System, which this year collected 12,891 pounds of food. A single school in the county, Burton Center for Arts and Technology, under the leadership of principal Christian Kish, Mara Pufko and Tammie Sinnes,

S4S project coordinators, contributed over a ton of donations—2,178 pounds—double their goal of 1000 pounds.

Kish bragged on his staff and students. “Every year we have done this, it has gotten bigger and bigger. This is a testament to the Burton spirit and our belief….(in)…developing good citizens.”

Pufko and Sinnes said that BCAT students look forward to this annual event in making a difference for senior in the Roanoke Valley.

The Burton donations, along with the other schools, accounted for 29 percent of the total pounds collected so far. Those donations filled an estimated 800 bags that have been delivered.

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Of the scores of people who volunteered over 1,000 volunteer hours for the drive, dozens were members of AARP, many of whom are part of the AARP Southwest Virginia Volunteer Team under the leadership of Brian Jacks, AARP Virginia associate state director for southwest Virginia. AARP Virginia State Director Jim Dau, and Associate State Director of Federal Advocacy JessiKa Eglin came from Richmond to support the project and to join in the fun. Other AARP volunteers came from Lynchburg, Amherst and Blacksburg to participate.

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