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Volunteer Gardeners Donate Produce to Community Food Pantry

All generations help drive down senior hunger

AARP volunteers in community garden in Georgia

Photo by Kendrick Brinson/LUCEO Image

Thoi Seggerman and Daniel Hoover pick eggplant in AARP’s plot in a Mableton community garden. All the produce is donated to a food pantry.

When Thoi Seggerman recently moved to Atlanta from Singapore, she wanted to get involved in her new community through volunteer work. She also wanted to indulge her love of gardening.

Seggerman, 58, a retired cosmetologist, found both when she checked AARP's Create the Good website and saw that AARP Georgia needed people to help tend its patch in the Historic Mableton Community Garden.

See also: Faces of hunger in America.

It's a 30-mile round trip for Seggerman, but the chance to grow organic vegetables — tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, eggplant and green beans — was a strong draw. So was AARP Georgia's plan for the 300 pounds of produce it expected to harvest. It all goes to a food pantry that serves low-income families and individuals.

Several dozen volunteers have signed on to weed, water and harvest AARP Georgia's 20-by-30-foot plot. It's the first of several community gardens AARP Georgia plans to plant.

Lifelong community

The garden is an oasis on a bustling road that cuts through Mableton, 15 miles west of downtown Atlanta. Plans for the garden sprouted last fall from an effort by the Atlanta Regional Commission to transform Mableton into a community where residents can live and thrive through all stages of aging. Part of the project, called Lifelong Mableton, is the garden. The first seeds of AARP's plot were planted in April

"The garden is so much more than a garden," said Cheryl Mayerik, coordinator of Lifelong Mableton. In addition to beauty, she said, it offers older adults a way to exercise and socialize.

Next: Helping to fight hunger. >>

Janie Walker, AARP Georgia director of community outreach, said the garden "fit perfectly" with Drive to End Hunger, a campaign by AARP and AARP Foundation to reduce hunger among older Americans.

Walker tends the plot twice a week and works alongside AARP volunteers, some of whom bring their grandkids to dig in the dirt.

"See those beans? They were planted by a 10-year-old," said Daniel Hoover, AARP Georgia's lead volunteer for the project and an experienced organic grower.

Hoover is 24, but he likes working with AARP members because "elders offer a lot of life lessons that people my age don't know." Like Seggerman, he appreciates that his efforts will help feed people who don't always have enough to eat.

All the vegetables are donated to the Christian Aid Mission Partnership (CAMP) in nearby Austell. Its food pantry serves more than 1,000 households each month.

Fresh food is pricey

"Fresh produce is an expensive item at the grocery store," said Darlene Duke, CAMP's executive director. "Many folks don't have the luxury of shopping on the produce aisle."

That's especially true of many older people. In Georgia, for instance, nearly 413,000 people 60 and older have incomes low enough to make them eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps. But three-fourths of them are not enrolled, according to a federal government analysis.

Nevertheless, Duke said, "we don't serve near as many older people as we'd like to. I know the need exists, but they are a very proud generation that gets by on what they have."

To get more fresh vegetables onto older people's tables, AARP Georgia provides low-income people from two senior residence centers in Austell with free transportation and a $5 voucher to a weekly farmers' market in Mableton.

Marian Richburg, 63, who lives in one of those senior residences, cuts up extra produce she gets from the farmers' market and freezes it for winter.

"This is so nice for those who do not have a car to get out," she said at the market. "Everything here is very fresh."

You may also like: 6 tips for cutting costs in your garden. >>

Ann Hardie is a writer living in Atlanta.

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