The Food for Seniors Program in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois started with a $1,000 grant fromThe Food for Seniors Program in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois started with a $1,000 grant from Hands Across America. Through the Eastern Illinois Food Bank and Family Service, an 80-year-old RSVP volunteer, Joe Rodehaver, was charged with the plan to address hunger among low-income seniors.
Through the Food for Seniors program, seniors in need of this kind of help are identified through Family Service TeleCare. Once approved, they are permanently added to one of the delivery routes. Twice each month nearly two tons of groceries are purchased from the Eastern Illinois Food Bank. Those groceries are delivered to a church fellowship hall where RSVP volunteers sort and bag them. Additional RSVP volunteers then arrive, load their cars, vans and trucks with bags of nutritious groceries, and head out for delivery. Some volunteers then help clean up and vacuum the hall while others tear down boxes and load them off to a recycling center.
This is truly an all-volunteer effort. Although Rodehaver passed away in 1995 as he approached his 90th birthday, others have kept his dream alive. People drive the delivery routes twice each month regardless of the weather. In central Illinois that can mean working through some extreme weather conditions. It is perhaps even more impressive when you realize that most of the volunteers packing, cleaning up and delivering that food are seniors themselves. Their average age is approximately 76 years old. They probably have a greater understanding of need than most of us. Recipients are responsibly people who have spent a lifetime paying their bills and doing without. But now they live on a tiny fixed income with overwhelming medical bills and the thing they do without is nutritious food.
Today, 228 Champaign-Urbana seniors benefit directly from this program and its twice monthly deliveries. Funding is entirely handled through local donations. No tax money is ever used or even requested. A local Masonic Lodge has even adopted the Food for Seniors program and it serves as its major contributor. Contributions continue to come from numerous members of the public – quite often from other, more fortunate seniors. Volunteers and even volunteer drivers show up in all kinds of weather, even on days that schools and businesses may close due to weather conditions. There is no overhead to this project. Even the work space is donated. The project has won many local awards, including the Illinois Hometown Governor’s Award.