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Ohio

Fighting Hunger Right Here at Home

Six of 10 older residents who qualify for food assistance don't enroll

AARP Ohio Fighting Hunger

Ann George, 77, founder of the Parma Heights Food Pantry, realized that there was a need to help feed hungry people in Cuyahoga County, not just overseas. — Photo by: Andrew Spear/Aurora Select

Ann George's epiphany happened six years ago in a grocery store.

The founder of the Parma Heights Food Pantry was astonished to hear two older women discussing how little they had to spend on food. Rent and medical expenses consumed much of their monthly retirement income.

See also: Faces of Hunger.

They never thought, after so many years of comfortable living, they'd be having such difficulties.

George, 77, still shudders at that memory. "Oh, I have so many stories," she said. "People say, 'I worked for Ford, or for General Motors, for 20 years. I never expected to be in this spot.' "

That's why George's nonprofit food pantry, which also stocks clothing, books and school supplies, has the look and feel of a grocery store. It is staffed by about 20 volunteers — some of whom are clients — who assist customers by helping them select healthy foods according to a nutritional chart and offering recipes and tips on stretching meals.

George was head of her church's mission committee, which was concentrating on relief efforts in other countries, when she decided to open a food pantry.

"I went to a meeting and said, 'There is a need right here,' " she recalled. She persuaded area churches and businesses to donate labor, shelving, food — even the rent for the storefront. Her efforts earned George an AARP Andrus Award — the premier award for volunteers — last year.

George's pantry bridges the food gap for many Cuyahoga County residents. Ohio ranks among the top dozen states whose older residents worry about being able to buy enough food, an AARP study found.

Food banks can help and even provide a way for residents to give back to their communities. Community centers also are stores of information for other types of assistance available to older adults.

Karen Hill, aging services director at Warren County Community Services Inc., in Lebanon, helps adults 60 and older apply for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program — federally funded but operated by the state — which each month supplies a two-pound block of cheese and 40 pounds of nonperishable food.

Next: What you can do to help. >>