Several years ago, when Debra Eudy wanted to volunteer in her Stanly County community, the greatest need was clear. "Our seniors were the most neglected," she said.
See also: Michael Nye reveals the faces of hunger.
Not anymore. Eudy and her husband, Ricky, an assistant fire chief in Ridgecrest, began a community food bank through their church. It's supported by the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, one of seven Feeding America food banks AARP North Carolina and the AARP Foundation are working with in the Drive to End Hunger (DTEH).
This spring, AARP joined with Second Harvest to educate the public about hunger among older people at events leading up to the Coca-Cola 600 May 29 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The AARP Foundation also helped pay for nearly a half-million grocery bags distributed to Charlotte-area homes by mail carriers. Residents filled the bags with food, which the carriers picked up May 14.
At the race, the No. 24 car — four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champ Jeff Gordon's — sported the DTEH logo, and racegoers made contributions via credit card. Those who donated $24 will receive a commemorative hat in the mail.
"We are trying to reach out to our members who may not be affiliated with a chapter or state office," said Greg Tanner, AARP North Carolina associate director-community outreach.
For years, AARP North Carolina has worked with chapters and other groups to hold food drives, support food banks and increase enrollment in SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps.
But the challenge persists. North Carolina ranks sixth in food hardship, based on a Food Research and Action Center study. Nearly a quarter of the state's population reported not having enough money to buy food for themselves or their family in the past 12 months. Winston-Salem, Greensboro-High Point and Asheville ranked third, fourth and seventh, respectively, among metro areas nationally in food hardship.
Much of this hunger is among older people. A 2009 national study by Feeding America showed that people 50 and older represent nearly half of those who obtain groceries at a food bank or other emergency food provider.
Since the economic downturn, many of them are like Terrie Massey, 55, of Charlotte. She lost her job as a certified nursing assistant last summer. She takes care of her 87-year-old mother and three grandchildren, and turned to the food pantry at Calvary United Methodist Church in late 2010.
"I did not expect to be faced with this," said Massey, who had held her job for 17 years and never been to a food pantry.
"Our numbers served over the last two years are up 30 percent," said Beverly Howard, executive director of Loaves & Fishes, a food pantry whose 15 sites include Calvary United.
Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina supplies pantries and other emergency food programs in 19 Charlotte-area counties, including the program the Eudys started at Providence Church of God in Locust.
"It helps a lot," said Margaret Pritchard, 80, of Mount Pleasant, of the approximately six bags of food and household items she receives monthly. "I live alone and was spending quite a bit of money on food, at least $100 a month."
A retired registered nurse, Pritchard receives her groceries when she attends a free monthly senior luncheon at the church, where she devotes $25 of her monthly church tithe to the community food program. Other people receive groceries on the second Saturday of the month, when all ages are helped.
Debra Eudy, 48, estimates about a third of the approximately 600 people served the last Saturday of each month are 50 and older.
The program wouldn't be possible, Eudy said, without inexpensive food through Second Harvest and the volunteers who run the effort. She hopes the DTEH campaign will spur more people to help. "You don't have to save the world — just do what you can." she said. "You will be amazed at what can transpire."
To volunteer, visit the Drive to End Hunger website or call AARP North Carolina toll-free at 1-866-389-5650.
Susan Shackelford is a freelance writer and editor based in Charlotte, N.C.