San Luis Obispo County

Seniors helping SLO Food Bank through service-therapy program

Seniors giving back through physical activity

ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. - The Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County relies on hundreds of volunteers throughout the year to help in its mission to alleviate hunger.

Among those who assist the non-profit organization is a group of senior citizens involved with a one-of-kind program at the Arroyo Grande Care Center.

"It's unique way of volunteering," said Food Bank Chief Operating Officer Wendy Lewis. "These residents are able to get physical activity and also help out the community."

The volunteer seniors are residents at the care center and are recovering from serious illness or accident. Once a month, the seniors help sort out and bag food, which is later distributed onsite.

"It gives them a reason to get up," Melissa Myers, Arroyo Grande Care Center Activities Manager. "They know that they need to get up and help. It gives them a purpose."

Once food is removed from boxes, it's placed in separately in front of each senior volunteer, so that each person has a different food item. One senior volunteer opens a grocery bag, places their food item into it, and then begins an assembly line process.

"They take one of each item and put it in the grocery bag and pass it on down the line," said senior volunteer Donna Hillman.

The care center calls the activity service-based therapy, which benefits the mind, body and soul.

"It's nice to participate in and it's nice to be able to be the one to receive it and be grateful," sand Hillman.

Volunteer Pete Dougall has been a resident at the care center since July. The former Arroyo Grande mayor says the best of the program is having the opportunity to do something positive for the community.

"It's nice to see people's faces going home with sacks of food they couldn't get," said Dougall.

Assisting the seniors are several volunteers, including Andrea Prandini, who has helped out since her mother was a resident at the care center for more than two years.

"She loved Food Bank," said Prandini. "She loved giving back to the community. We came with her every month and we really, really enjoyed it."

Prandini now comes every month, providing help to the seniors through the sometimes difficult process of placing cans, jars and packages into the grocery bags.

"We have fun," Prandini said. "We play music, sometimes we dance. Everybody works together as a team and it's just a great time."

After the food is bagged inside, it's immediately taken outside where residents help distribute it to dozens of Food Bank clients in the South County.

"Households will be able to take it home, feed their family," said Lewis. "It's great stable, healthy food and it just means so much making sure everyone has a healthy meal."

Myers also notes the program allows the seniors the opportunity to bake cookies, which are also distributed to Food Bank clients picking up food outside.

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