Out of the Recliner and into Helping Others
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Out of the Recliner and into Helping Others

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January 27, 2012

When she retired, Kie Ann Kirk, 66, found herself spending lots of time in her recliner. But it wasn’t always relaxing.

“I was sitting home having a pity party for myself,” Kie Ann recalls. “I had to retire, and I was recovering from breast cancer. Some weeks, I never even left the house.”

Then a friend from church asked a favor. A volunteer at the local senior center was leaving—could Kie Ann fill in one day a week?

Two years later, Kie Ann is a key volunteer and active participant at the Dallas L. Winchester Senior Center in Wabash, IN. The organization is a member of NCOA’s National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC).

“I started seeing old friends, talking with people, helping others—and it felt so good,” she says.

Kie Ann is part of a highly organized team of senior volunteers that runs the center’s Community Cupboard Food Pantry—a critical community service that collects and distributes food to people who are struggling in this economy.

“I help hand out food once a week,” Kie Ann explains. “Once a month, I also help distribute an extra box of food to low-income seniors who are 60 and over.”

The demand for this service has grown in the time Kie Ann has been volunteering. “It started where 25 people per night was average, and our rush was 30,” she says. “Now 40 is our average, and 50+ is our rush.”

A model volunteer program

The Dallas L. Winchester Senior Center won a NISC 2011 Programs of Excellence Award for its Community Cupboard Food Pantry, which began eight years ago and is run entirely by older volunteers.

The pantry is open Monday through Friday, and clients can come once a month. Three to four volunteers work during pantry hours, and a second team of two to six works after pantry hours to restock the shelves. A retired manufacturing purchasing manager submits weekly orders to vendors, and a volunteer delivery crew receives the orders in the garage warehouse. Through the years, retired engineers have utilized their years of experience in industry to improve the function and design of the pantry.

In 2011, the pantry:

  • Distributed 42,535 pounds of donated food
  • Purchased 158,396 pounds of food
  • Served an average of 608 families per month
  • Served an average of 207 seniors per month

“The cupboard enables our senior volunteers to empower vulnerable individuals of all ages to live healthier lives,” says CEO Beverly Ferry. “The strength and beauty of this program is that the senior volunteers find a place where their specific talents are recognized, needed, and in a very satisfying way, impact the community.” 

A doorway to a more active life

For Kie Ann, the pantry has led to even more opportunities to stay active and get involved through the senior center.

“It got me out of my recliner,” she says. “Now I go three times a week to a low-impact aerobics class, and I volunteer in other ways.”

When she filled in for a receptionist who was on vacation for a few weeks, Kie Ann got a first-hand look at the wide array of services the senior center provides for older adults in the community—including transportation, meals, fitness classes, help with choosing a Medicare plan, and more.

NISC members like the Dallas L. Winchester Senior Center are redefining the role of senior centers in the community, providing proven, effective programs that help seniors stay healthy and independent.

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