“Older folks have had a whole life of doing for themselves. It’s hard for them to ask for help.”
Donna Galloway is practically leaping between refrigerators and freezers as she packs up shopping bags with meats and vegetables. She moves a bit like a bumblebee: a buzz of activity emits from her very being.
“They didn’t ask me to come in everyday, but I do,” says the 66 year old volunteer at Second Harvest Food Bank’s partner agency, One Step Further, Inc in downtown Greensboro. She has been volunteering at One Step Further for nearly a year. “It’s a warm feeling to help someone.”
One Step Further is one of Second Harvest’s 100 partner programs serving Guilford County, where about 19% of residents, or nearly 1 in 5, are food insecure. Every year, Second Harvest moves about 6.3 million pounds of food to Guilford County to stock pantries such as the one at One Step Further. The pantry here is carefully organized but it is admittedly a tight fit; canned and nonperishable items are stacked to the ceiling in one room and meats and vegetables are packed into a row of old refrigerators in another. Donna swings a freezer door open and heaves out a large package of frozen meat and moves it to another orderly shelf. She clearly knows these rooms in and out.
The One Step Further staff has expressed to us how integral and valuable Donna is to their distribution efforts. So we ask, how did she come to volunteer here?
“Oh, I learned about it when I used to come down to get a bag myself.”
Client Choice and Connections to Health
A younger Donna Galloway was once a computer programmer for the Army in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Later, she worked in nursing homes up north and eventually in Greensboro. But as Donna grew older and came to live off a small, fixed income she found her budget for food dramatically reduced. Seniors whose fixed incomes have not kept pace with rising prices are increasingly at risk of hunger.
Donna remembers when she first came to One Step Further’s pantry: “Older folks have had a whole life of doing for themselves. It’s hard for them to ask for help.”
This is why Donna says she will always offer, but never insist, on putting the grocery bags into a client’s car for them. Choice and autonomy are important at One Step Further, as is evidenced by the food they offer. Their pantry shelves have handwritten index cards taped to them: there is a section of food reserved for a vegan family, a space for gentleman with specific health needs due to his medication, and a section for a kosher food. Donna explains that she is careful to ask older folks what they need to meet their sometimes very specific medical needs. “We ask people “Can you eat this? What does your doctor say?”
Donna herself is diabetic, as are a large number of the pantry clients One Step Further serves. 33% of households seen by Second Harvest’s partner agencies have at least one member who is diabetic. “I have to pay attention to salt and starch. Diabetics can’t just eat potatoes because they are cheap. We have to be careful. My sugar can go up just thinking about bills! So we have to be careful what we eat.”
For older adults, inadequate diets can contribute to or worsen disease and delay recovery from illnesses. “People come in here on oxygen. People come in here who are doing chemo. Lots of people come in on medicines. All of this stuff costs so much money. Nothing is free, so if we can help them out with food… then, well, that’s something,” says Donna.
A Place for Connection
Across Second Harvest Food Bank’s 18 county service area, about 10% of people seeking food assistance are 65 or older; and 30% are over the age of 50.
Donna explains that for seniors, One Step Further is more than a pantry: it is also a place for connection. “They want to meet people, they want to talk about their children, they want to share tips on how to control their sugar,” she says. “I can give them food and I can give them a laugh, a loving word, a good morning. It goes a long way.”
Donna takes this part of her job seriously. She is keenly aware of the social isolation felt by many seniors as their families move away and they find it harder to get out and about. But Donna brings her own experience with her to One Step Further and she lets that inform her interactions.
“I remember I was so afraid of hearing ‘no.’ I hate to be told ‘no.’ That is why I like being here: I always get to say ‘yes’ to people.”