Wanda Dudley, a long-time Ward 8 resident, was recently named one of the two winners of AARP’s nationwide Show Your Love Volunteer Contest. As Volunteer Program Coordinator Team Lead at the United Planning Organization (UPO), Ms. Wanda coordinates the registration, food distribution, and logistics for over 350 seniors each month.
Wanda Dudley, 68, was born and raised in Pantego, North Carolina and moved to the District of Columbia in 1977. Her family always gave to the community, so helping others came naturally to her. When she was younger, she gave food to children in her DC neighborhood and provided clothes and shelter to young people who needed it.
In 2015, Ms. Wanda was waiting at a bus stop, on her way home from a doctor’s appointment, when a woman from UPO (a nonprofit that helps low-income DC residents become self-sufficient and thrive) approached her and asked if she needed food. Ms. Wanda saw this encounter as an opportunity to get more involved in her community, and she asked if they needed volunteers. Earlier that year, her husband had been killed and she felt that helping others could help her move forward and give purpose to her life. And so began her journey with UPO.
When she first started volunteering, UPO distributed 40 food boxes each month to seniors in Wards 7 and 8 through the Grocery Plus Program, which provides low-income seniors with free, nutritious food that they use to prepare the nutritious meals they need to live well. But in her first month, only 20 boxes were picked up, so Ms. Wanda made calls and talked to people in her community that she thought might need the assistance, to ensure that all the boxes would be picked up the following month. It worked!
Now, six years later, thanks to Ms. Wanda’s tireless outreach, UPO distributes food to more than 350 seniors each month. Everyone who comes to pick up their food box knows Ms. Wanda and typically stays to chat with her. Ms. Wanda loves talking with them because, as she says, “seniors are wise.”
At first, the boxes of food arrived at UPO unsealed, and many people were hesitant to take the boxes home because of food safety concerns. Upon Ms. Wanda’s request, the boxes now come to UPO folded and sealed. Typical foods in each month’s box include canned fruit and veggies, rice, cheese, and juice. When she found out that brown rice was being provided to seniors in other Wards through the Grocery Plus Program, she advocated on behalf of participants in Wards 7 and 8 to ensure that their food boxes included brown rice too, as well as low-sodium canned goods.
While these were relatively easy advocacy wins, it was a more difficult push to get fresh fruits and vegetables incorporated into the food deliveries. She pushed for this change for several years, knowing that many of UPO’s clients do not have a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet due to a lack of access to full-service grocery stores, lack of transportation, or both.
This year, her advocacy paid off. The food boxes now include fresh fruit and veggies in their deliveries. Ms. Wanda considers this achievement a highlight of her work at UPO. She made sure that the first batch of produce that UPO received not only went to the seniors but also went to volunteers participating in the organization’s “Foster Grandparent” program so they could share the healthy food with the children that they mentor through this program.
Ms. Dudley’s other projects include helping seniors become more tech savvy and comfortable on the computer. She also organizes health and wellness activities for seniors, such as Visual Storytelling Workshops, Mind Meditation, and chair yoga.
Her commitment and energy are best summed up by Ayana Bias, UPO’s Director of Advocacy and Volunteers, who nominated her for the award. “Wanda is genuine, dedicated, and passionate about giving the best service and experience to each and every senior. During the pandemic, although Ms. Wanda was a part of the vulnerable population who was supposed to stay home and quarantine, her love, service, and compassion for her community wouldn’t allow her to stay still. She made her way to the office with mask and gloves to make calls to her 350+ seniors to coordinate deliveries. Yes, they are HER seniors.”
Congratulations, Wanda Dudley! You deserve all the praise and more!