It’s extraordinarily fitting that Ann George of Parma Heights should be presented with the AARP Ohio 2011 Andrus Award for Community Service – the national organization’s highest honor.
See Also: Award Named for AARP Founder
George’s story mirrors that of AARP founder Ethel Percy Andrus. Both women, decades apart, were retired and in their 70s when spurred into action to correct unfortunate circumstances they discovered in their communities. Each has proven true a vision Dr. Andrus often articulated: “Our community is the place where we can be most effective.”
AARP, with 1.5 million members in Ohio, is committed to honoring volunteers whose efforts are making it better in their communities. George was unanimously selected by an AARP Ohio all-volunteer committee to receive this year’s award because her work embodies the volunteer service that is the legacy of Ethel Percy Andrus. George founded the Parma Heights Food Pantry in 2006 and has volunteered as its director ever since.
Dr. Andrus, a retired high school principal, was 73 when she established AARP in 1958. Before Medicare existed and back when no company would offer health insurance to older Americans, she found a former teacher rendered destitute by sickness and living in a chicken coop. That experience turned her into a champion for older Americans.
Under the motto “To serve, not to be served” she led members on a mission to create a society in which everyone ages with dignity and purpose. Today AARP remains a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization committed to her vision and leading positive social change through advocacy, service and information.
George, a retired telecommunications worker, was 72 when she founded the Parma Heights Food Pantry after standing in line at a supermarket where she overheard two elderly women talking about the high price of food and how by the end of the month they were forsaking meals to pay utility and doctor bills.
Chairwoman of the Pleasant Hills United Methodist Church mission committee, George knows local residents give time and money to help people in desperate situations all over the world.
“I knew people didn’t believe that we have a hunger problem here in Parma Heights, but that if they understood that we do, they would want to help,” she said.
So, George gathered demographic data about the Parma Heights community, and went to the mayor and city council for approval to start the pantry. Three months later, with overwhelming support from the community, the pantry opened in July 2006 and has since provided food for thousands of local residents.
About one third of the individuals who rely on the pantry are older citizens. George says a tight job market and tough economic times are sending more “people who worked hard all their lives and never expected to be here” to the pantry. Each month this summer, the number of needy families coming to the pantry rose.
Dignity and choice are valued by Parma Heights Food Pantry supporters, and those values are reflected in way the pantry operates. Individuals get color-coded shopping lists that show how to use the pantry and walk the aisles to fill their carts with the foodstuffs their families prefer. George says that because supplemental nutrition assistance program cards don’t allow purchase of toilet paper, soap or other personal hygiene items, they are especially appreciated by those who use the pantry.
The pantry, with its dedicated volunteer force and generous donors, has expanded its mission to offer classes to help job seekers ace interviews and put together winning resumes, and provides appropriate clothing when needed.
AARP Ohio is encouraging members across the state to take part in our national Drive to End Hunger by donating to their food pantries. A toolkit to help organize food drives for your pantry is available at Create the Good.