LUMBERTON —Christmas came a few days early for more than 300 Robeson County senior citizens who attended this year’s “Holiday Caring for Seniors” food box giveaway on Saturday.
“I do appreciate this with all my heart and soul,” said Bessie Oxendine Hammonds. “I thank God for this.”
Like many others in attendance, Hammonds said she lives on a fixed income, and that the canned fruits and vegetables, soups and juice she received will go a long way.
About $5,000 in food was handed out at Lumberton Junior High School by elected officials and volunteers from the Robeson Church and Community Center, the county’s Department of Social Services, local businesses and sororities.
Each box contained enough for one holiday dinner, including either a hen or a ham. While donors and sponsors directly purchased some of the food, the rest came from Second Harvest Good Bank and the food bank at the Robeson Church and Community Center, said state Rep. Garland Pierce, who helped organize the event.
Volunteers also distributed $5 Food Lion gift cards. While waiting in line for their food, seniors were able to get flu shots courtesy of Walgreens and learn about the Affordable Care Act.
“Our seniors citizens sometimes get less than any other group due to living on fixed incomes,” said Pierce. “We just want to recognize them and thank them for all that they’ve done in life.”
For many in attendance, having a little extra food in the house will take a big weight off their shoulders.
“This fills the empty gap,” said Ordis Leach, of Lumberton. It was her second time attending the event, and last year’s box made all the difference in her holiday season, she said.
Volunteers said that need is what has made them come back for three, four or even all five years the event has been held.
“Out the seven counties that we serve, Robeson County is one of the counties with the greatest need, with the number of individuals that are at or below poverty,” said Rob Pringle, director of Second Harvest Food Bank, which is based in Fayetteville.
“The elderly have to make the toughest decisions. You have seniors who are making the decision ‘do I get my prescriptions or do I buy food?,’ ‘do I pay my utilities or do I buy food?,’” he said. “So it’s important to ensure that they have a place at the table as well.”
Catherine Baker, program manager with Adult Services at the Department of Social Services, said she’s been hearing from seniors all month about the event.
“A lot of them look forward to it. As soon as December rolls around they start calling us,”
Evelyn Chavis, of Lumberton, has been wanting to come to the event for years but was never able to arrange transportation before.
“It means the world to me,” said Chavis, who is most looking forward to baking with the cans of pumpkin pie filling she received.
“You gotta be thankful for what you’ve got,” she said, eyeing the contents of her bag.