Saturday, June 1, 2013 | 7:24 p.m.
Hundreds of AARP members from across the country came together on Saturday at the Las Vegas Convention Center during the Life@50+ National Convention with a goal to package 21,000 meals for seniors in Southern Nevada.
They bypassed booths and healthy-living seminars to stuff bags with cans of soup, pears, green beans, chicken, juice, black beans and milk. In one shift, a group packed 1,000 bags for Three Square, a Las Vegas nonprofit that delivers meals to families and seniors in need.
Meanwhile, the volunteers also learned a startling statistic – 9 million seniors nationwide need food. Three Square director Erica Thompson said 80,000 Southern Nevada seniors are hungry.
It's a message that AARP Chief Operating Officer Jo Ann Jenkins hopes will create a lasting impact.
“We’re really trying to shine a spotlight on the issue of senior hunger,” Jenkins said. “As part of our member experience, we thought: How can we engage our members and volunteers to come in, and not only bring up the issue of senior hunger, but (get them) involved and solve it?”
The group’s efforts highlighted the final day of AARP’s Day of Service, a national event. Thousands of AARP members volunteered on Thursday and Saturday at eight different charities in Southern Nevada.
Hunger among the elderly is an issue that most people don’t know about because many seniors are too proud to ask for help, Jenkins said.
Rep. Joe Heck led the first group of the afternoon by packing four bags at a time. He said the event was a boost for Southern Nevada, where one in six starving people are seniors.
“It’s a great opportunity to help stamp out food insecurity among seniors in Clark County,” Heck said. “Senior nutrition is critically important, and we know that we have so many food-insecure seniors here in Clark County that I thought it was a great opportunity to come out and help.”
Volunteers worked 90-minute shifts. Some filled two or three bags at a time eager to help, while others helped Three Square staff members restock the supplies.
Las Vegas resident and volunteer Danny Ray’s head and arms shined with sweat as he ripped open boxes of canned goods to restock the table.
“Back here its sweaty,” Ray joked from behind the table. “Out there its all trick-or-treat. I’ve heard some say they feel like a little kid again.”
One couple was changed by the experience. Tommy and Ella Mae Simpson spent the event working up a sweat opening boxes and stocking the tables with canned goods for other volunteers to bag.
Ella Mae Simpson was shocked to learn about the prevalence of starving seniors and used it as motivation to energize them as they worked. She and her husband plan to return to their home in Mint Hills, N.C., and start working with caregivers to address the issue.
“This has opened my eyes wider to hear how bad hunger is for seniors,” Simpson said. “It’s made me more aware of the issue.”
Ray said he was thrilled to help toward an important cause: “Overall, this is a wonderful thing to be part of.”