Hunger is a serious and on-going problem for senior citizens and families in Stark County, Ohio. According to the American Community survey, the poverty rate in Ohio is 13% and the National Center for Children in Poverty found that 16% of Ohio’s children are living in poverty. The Ohio Association of Second Harvest Food Banks reported that in any given week 207,700 different Ohioan’s receive emergency food assistance, 35% of those are children under 18 and one in ten are age 5 or under. 9% of these are seniors, many of whom live on fixed incomes. Since I have worked with seniors and children on a daily basis for 21 years, I am thoroughly acquainted with this painful reality. Therefore, I don’t want to see anyone go hungry.
The goal of St. John’s Samaritans Table is to feed as many individuals as possible on a weekly basis. By providing 500 to 550 individuals a home cooked sit-down meal including several courses, dessert and coffee, the community is able to meet pressing needs. St. John’s Samaritans Table is a project of Community Services of Stark County, Inc. and is successful because the emergency food banks and other citizens provide the needed food in an on-going manner.
Eighteen Retired & Senior Volunteers (RSVP) provide this service alongside other community volunteers. The volunteers are solely responsible for carrying out the weekly program. They coordinate the meal planning, food purchases, cooking, set-up, serving and clean-up. They have taken “ownership” of the program and take great pride in their self-imposed volunteer activities. Volunteers enjoy training the students from various schools, guiding them through their assigned chores for the day and showing them the “art of serving, bussing tables, and cleaning up.” Each and every volunteer personally interacts with the weekly guests and ensures that no one leaves hungry. They have also been trained to direct individuals seeking more than a hot meal to the appropriate community resource for further assistance.
In addition to the nutrition program, the RSVP volunteers assist with the on-site Health Fairs to help homeless, elderly, and low-income individuals with much needed, but unaffordable health care and during the holidays, the volunteers have dedicated themselves to providing an annual Samaritan’s Table Children’s Christmas Party and assist in the sorting, bagging and distribution of toiletry gift bags to the adult patrons each Christmas.
In many ways, the program has been as therapeutic for the volunteers as it has been for the weekly patrons. The volunteers appear “tireless” and it should be noted that the RSVP volunteers put in 4,320 hours each year serving approximately 25,200 meals to ensure the program’s success. Stark County is known for being a caring community and the presence of the Samaritan’s Table nutrition program is an outstanding testimony to that reputation.
To learn more about the Retired Senior Volunteers Program, visit http://www.seniorcorps.gov/about/programs/rsvp.asp. To find a similar volunteer opportunity in your area, keyword search: “Retired Senior Volunteer Program” “soup kitchen” “food bank”