AARP Foundation fights senior hunger

Volunteers packing meals (Jonika Stowes/MSR News)

Summer of Service tour emphasis is on senior poverty

The Foundation leg of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) stepped into town on Sunday, August 6, to concentrate on poverty among the community’s senior population. Ph.D. Ethel Percy Andrus founded AARP in 1958. She was California’s first woman high school principal and an elder rights activist.

Percy Andrus also founded the National Retired Teachers Association (NRTA) in 1947. She died at the age of 82, nine years after starting AARP in 1967.

For the last four years, Lisa Marsh Ryerson has been president of the AARP Foundation, the charitable affiliate of AARP. “The strength of the mission is what drew me to the work, said Ryerson. “We are determined to revise a country full of poverty where no older person feels vulnerable.”

Over 1,200 volunteers packed half a million meals that will stay right here in the Twin Cities feeding seniors who are hungry and who need the food. AARP packs the meals and then donates them to Second Harvest Heartland food bank in Maplewood. Second Harvest Heartland will work through their network to distribute the meals packed by AARP.

The August 6 event was held on the St. Thomas campus in St. Paul, where some of the students on summer break were on hand to help. DJ Tantrum kept the adult and child volunteers going with upbeat music.

Outside, on the campus grounds, volunteers had an opportunity to see some of the physical hardships in housing that seniors go through. Examples included maneuvering a wheelchair over the threshold of a door and turning door handle knobs that could be made easier by installing door lever handles.

The Twin Cities is the third stop on the AARP Foundation’s Summer of Service to Seniors tour. Marsh Ryerson said, “It’s way past time to end senior hunger for sure,” said Ryerson, “but it’s [also] very important that we lift senior poverty out of the shadows.” The AARP Foundation decided to go across the country to address immediate hunger by packing meals. Ryerson called the mission “A celebratory day of action to bring individuals together in immediate service … while helping educate the volunteers and the communities about the broader issue of senior poverty.”

The tour began in Memphis, Tennessee where volunteers challenged the Denver, Colorado area to raise more meals. The Denver volunteers then challenged the Twin Cities to raise even more meals for their metro area. After hitting the Twin Cities with the donation of half a million meals, the AARP Foundation will focus their tour on Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia (DMV) on September 10 and 11 on the National Mall where they will raise the stakes to a donation of 1.5 million meals in the DMV area.

Marsh Ryerson said, “Senior poverty is about the 20 million 50-year-olds and older adults who don’t have the resources to secure the essentials.” The AARP Foundation focuses its attention on hunger, housing and income, “so we really work…making sure all older adults have access to nutritious food; safe, affordable housing; and have opportunities to continue to generate income throughout their lives and are socially connected.

“We really work to fight social isolation,” she added, “which is also devastating when it comes to health outcomes for older adults.” Often seniors must decide whether to spend their money on rent, medications or food.

Will Phillips, state director of AARP MN, was packing meals with his seven-year-old daughter. When asked about the recent federal attack on the Meals on Wheels organization, he said AARP action was tabled for now, but they are keeping an eye on federal funding for seniors.

AARP Foundation’s Summer of Service to Seniors is committed to packing three million meals across the country and impacting six major cities across the nation.

According to Ryerson the tour is also “lifting our eyes and minds on sustainable solutions, so that neighbors and community members who’ve given so much throughout their lives to our communities are given the best opportunity to have their best possible lives.”


For more information on how to help seniors and to volunteer for any community events, visit

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