Hal Hunter has a generous heart, a resourceful mind, and hands eager to get good work done for those in need. That combination of attributes helps explain what made him one of the five winners of the Hunger Hero All Star Contest, the latest effort of AARP and AARP Foundation’s Drive to End Hunger to raise awareness about the blight of senior hunger and what everyday folk are doing to help address it.
Hal saw a need and set out to solve a problem. A resident of rural Rappahannock County, Virginia, where there are only 29 residents per square mile, he knew that older people were really struggling in the tough times after the 2008 recession, particularly because any help available – and there wasn’t much – was hard for seniors to get to in the sparsely populated region.
Then, one day in the fall of 2008, he noticed a man wearing a t-shirt that said something about growing volunteers. “I followed him to the parking lot and asked how one grows volunteers,” Hal says. “He started talking about a volunteer farm and reeled off statistics about how many tons of food they grow each year.”
Hal did some online research, learning about how Volunteer Farm, based in Woodstock, Va., works, and also about a movement called Plant a Row for the Hungry, which was being promoted by the Garden Writers Association of America. Plant a Row encourages volunteers to set aside at least one row of their vegetable garden to grow food to be donated to feed the hungry. That seemed to Hal to be just the right fit for Rappahannock, and he began recruiting growers, signing up volunteers and writing stories about the program in the local paper to promote the concept.
“Rappahannock has lots of civic-minded people,” Hal notes, and pledges to grow and donate food were soon piling up. But the county didn’t have a place to distribute the food, so Hal got to work again. “I scouted neighboring counties for food banks,” Hal remembers, “and I found one that wanted to put a satellite pantry in Rappahannock.” They still needed a location for what would be called the Food Pantry, and through connections with the local senior center, Hal was able to procure their building when they moved to a new one. He also went about finding freezers, refrigerators, other equipment and furniture for the Food Pantry, using an electronic community bulletin board to solicit donations.
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