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The next day, as he does most Mondays, Dukes will volunteer at the Community Kitchen of Monroe County, which serves free meals daily except Sunday. About one-sixth of those meals are served to older people.
"It's fun," said Dukes, 62, a retired special education teacher from Bloomington. "And it's a nice feeling to know you're helping people in the community."
More Hoosiers will gain awareness of hunger and a willingness to help this summer when the 18th Brickyard 400 puts the Drive to End Hunger, a multiyear initiative of AARP, AARP Foundation, Jeff Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports, at the center of attention for Indiana NASCAR fans.
"Nothing is more Indiana than auto racing," said June Lyle, AARP Indiana state director. "This is a great opportunity to connect with something that a lot of people really love and feel passionate about."
Lyle said AARP Indiana hopes the exposure at the racetrack will allow it to further several goals of the Drive to End Hunger:
- Increase donations to Indiana's 11 Feeding America food banks.
- Improve awareness of hunger among older people and what can be done about it.
- Attract more volunteers, who are crucial to the operation of food banks and meal programs.
Indiana ranks 12th among the states in the percentage of older Americans at risk of hunger, according to a study sponsored by the Meals on Wheels Association of America. That's the highest ranking for any state outside the Deep South or the Southwest.
And many older residents don't access benefits that could help provide nutritious food, possibly because they're too embarrassed to ask for help or don't think they qualify. Only about one-third of the roughly 115,000 eligible Hoosiers who are 60 and older received federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in 2009.
Susan Ellis, director of Elders at the Table, an Indianapolis coalition of nonprofit organizations working to eradicate hunger among older people, said the issue's very complexity makes the task difficult. Poverty is a factor, she said, but a lack of transportation, social isolation and health problems also play a role.
"Pride is a huge issue," Ellis said. "Many seniors are not even going to admit to loved ones that they don't have enough food, let alone to someone else."
Another factor: less than generous state government policies. According to a recent study by the University of Indianapolis Center on Aging & Community, Indiana uses more restrictive guidelines than surrounding states for SNAP benefits, Medicaid home-based services and other benefits. While other states have requested federal funding to boost SNAP enrollment, Indiana has not, the study says.
Cindy Hubert, president and CEO of central Indiana's Gleaners Food Bank, said the problem will grow as boomers age. But that also presents an opportunity: an increase in active retirees who, like Dukes, will make volunteering a regular part of their lives.
When Dukes was growing up, racing for him meant the Indianapolis 500. His grandfather had lived and worked near the speedway, where he got to know drivers of the 1940s and '50s. Later he lived with Dukes' family in southwestern Indiana. "Every Memorial Day we'd get out the radio and the scorecards," Dukes said. "I'd talk to him about the drivers and the cars. I just loved it."
In 1994, friends took Dukes to the first Brickyard 400, when the checkered flag went to Gordon, the hometown hero.
Gordon went on to win the Brickyard three more times. And Dukes became a NASCAR fan, following Indiana drivers Gordon, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman. He took note when Gordon began the current season in a redesigned car with the Drive to End Hunger logo on the hood.
AARP Indiana hopes other racing fans will also take note and contribute either their time or money to end hunger.
Also of interest: Hungry in America — What we can do. >>
Steve Hinnefeld lives in Bloomington, Ind., and has been a journalist for more than 30 years.
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