In 2000, recently retired nurse Charolette Tidwell learned that seniors in her neighbourhood, in need of cheap sources of protein, were resorting to eating pet food.
"Allowing the generation that raised us to go to the point that they’re eating cat food and dog food, I can’t imagine that," Tidwell, 69, told NBC Nightly News. “I think it’s a forgotten population.”
So Tidwell, who grew up poor and was taught to always help those in need, invested her pension in her community, launching the social services agency Antioch Consolidated Association for Youth and Family. She now feeds about 7,000 people a month in her hometown of Fort Smith, Arkansas, through the food pantry where she works, unpaid, six days a week.
"In Arkansas, more than 160,000 seniors face hunger, according to a press release issued by Gov. Beebe and a study released by the Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Aging and Adult Services," Ken Kupchick, director of marketing and development for the River Valley Regional Food Bank, told the City Wire in December. “They estimate the senior food insecurity rate at one in three. NFESH estimates the threat of hunger at 24.23% in Arkansas, the highest in the nation.”
Tidwell told NBC Nightly News that she saves enough from her pension to survive, budgeting to maximize what she can give back to her community. Small donations and grants help subsidize the food-distribution program.
"I don’t worry about the money," she said. "I give it away."
"I just believe we serve a lot of working poor people who fall between the cracks," Tidwell told Fort Smith’s Southwest Times Record last summer. “And I don’t turn anyone away from the door.
"I think if they have a persistence or purpose to come here, I have the obligation to serve them. And to serve them in a compassionate, respectful way."
She hopes the next generation will continue her good work when she’s gone.
"It makes me feel good because I get to help people," said one young volunteer, who helps out alongside his mother.
"I want it to continue, if anything happens to me," Tidwell said of her work. “I just believe it will happen.”
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