Connie moved to a senior living community in Johnston after retiring five years ago. She has two sons working as engineers in Iowa, and she has always loved gardening, cooking, and canning. She tends a garden plot near her home, but it's not big enough to grow all the produce she needs. And she has trouble making her limited income cover all of her monthly expenses. Connie's situation is typical for many senior citizens—7 million of whom are food insecure nationwide, according to The Hunger in America report by Feeding America.
Volunteering allows Connie to give back to the pantries that help her make ends meet.
"I love to work with people in the community," she says. "I feel real blessed that our community has such wonderful opportunities for those that need help and also for those who want to volunteer," she says.
When fresh produce—tomatoes, onions, peppers, blueberries, cucumbers, and more—from local giving gardens in the United Way network started showing up in the pantries, Connie started giving back in another way. She takes the produce home to make jams, jellies, salsa, pickles, and other specialty items from scratch that have the nutritional content of fresh produce but a longer shelf life. Then she donates those items back to the community through her neighbors, church bazaars, and local pantries.
Being a volunteer and a client of the pantries allows Connie to see both sides of this much-needed community assistance, giving her a new perspective on those who use the pantries.
"People say: 'They don't need help. They can get a job.' But these people are from different countries. People need to come in and volunteer and see that, yes, these people do need help. And a lot of times they do find a job. That's rewarding to see...You feel good about that."
Connie can also feel good that her tasty treats end up with people like herself who need a little extra help.
"These are wonderful pantries—to help out people, to make that dollar stretch at the end of the month."
Six local companies in the United Way network have giving gardens on-site for employees to volunteer with.
- Des Moines University
- Farm Bureau Financial Services
- Guide One
- John Deere Financial
- Wells Fargo