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A Celebration of National Service

More than 1 million meals packaged for hungry seniors

AARP staff and volunteers pack meals on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11. - Louie Palu for AARP

En español | In the chaos that followed the Sept. 11 attacks 14 years ago, some things came into exquisite focus. We suddenly knew what really mattered — our loved ones, our country, our heroes and the huge loss we had all just suffered.

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We came together, bonded by an urge to counteract an unspeakable act of violence with countless acts of kindness. Every year since, on 9/11, millions of volunteers across America recapture that spirit of unity by exercising the healing power of helping others. For all of us at AARP, Sept. 11 is also a time to rededicate ourselves to the core principle upon which our organization was founded: "To serve, not to be served."

Every year since that fateful day in 2001, we have closed our offices in Washington and across the country and gone out into communities to serve the needs of the most vulnerable among us. With the help of AARP volunteers and our partner organizations, we have worked to build playgrounds for children; read to kids in schools; fix up nursing homes and senior centers; package and distribute food to the hungry; visit people in hospitals, nursing homes and assisted living facilities; and perform countless other activities that help make life a little better for people in their communities.

This year, on Friday, Sept. 11, AARP Foundation spearheaded A Celebration of Service on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to honor those who gave their lives — including first responders. Flanked by the majestic Lincoln Memorial on one end and the World War II Memorial on the other, more than 5,000 volunteers, many of them local AARP staff, came together in the shadow of the Washington Monument to pack more than 1 million meals for struggling seniors in our nation's capital, making this one of the largest meal-packaging events ever held.

The meals were distributed to hungry and food-insecure older adults across the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia through collaboration with the Capital Area Food Bank.

AARP Foundation works every day across the nation to improve life for older adults who are low-income or vulnerable. We offer our sincere thanks and gratitude for all those who joined us on the Mall for this day of celebration and service.

We thank all of those who gathered together in communities across the country to honor the people who gave their lives on that fateful September day, to rededicate themselves to serving others, and to demonstrate that the irrepressible flame that burns deep within us to serve, to give, to help and to care continues to define our great American spirit.

Jo Ann Jenkins is the chief executive officer of AARP.

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