Pay It Forward: Food for Others

Non-profits are usually only as good as their volunteers. But what if people want to help, but can't get out to do so? One organization has found the answer and is bridging generations in the process.

Usually our hearts smile when we talk about young people helping the elderly. This is the exact opposite and it all starts with a food bank in northern Virginia called Food for Others.

But this story also shows how paying it forward benefits on so many levels.

You probably wouldn't think these senior citizens are up on the latest math. But I'm here to tell you they are really good with numbers.

In fact, you could say each week, they work through an equation to help eliminate hunger.

"Every Thursday, they wait for this to start," said Elke Martin, volunteer program coordinator at Greenspring Village. "They are ready to go."

Forget bridge or bingo. These seniors at the Greenspring Village retirement community get together to put together food bags for children in need. And they have been doing it for the past three years.

"We do it because it makes us feel good," said resident volunteer Cindy Egan. "We're happy to serve the children who need it in Springfield."

"It helps us knowing that we can help somebody else because if one helps one, then we will all be better off," said Betty Carnes.

"Greenspring is a really innovative example of how we involve volunteers in the community because the residents have some time, talent, energy and willingness to help," said Jessica Cogen for Food for Others. "But they can't get out as easily into the community."

"Once you live in assisted living, your life becomes smaller, and so it's great when I can find some activity where they are the volunteers and they take great pride in that," said Martin.

Especially when they mark a milestone. Like on this particular Thursday when they packed their 10,000th bag!

It came as a surprise even to the ... let's just call them the well-seasoned workers.

Food for Others calls these bags "power packs." They are light enough for a child to carry, but large enough to hold nutritious items to cover every weekend meal.

1,500 power packs a week are given out to kids in Fairfax County who otherwise would have nothing to eat between their school lunch on Friday and school breakfast served Monday.

"I've been in the room many times when the kids get their power packs, and numerous occasions I've had kids say, ‘Where do these packages come from?'" said Anita Magrath, assistant principal at Springfield Estates Elementary School in Springfield.

The power packs packed by the thoughtful elders at Greenspring are delivered to the school.

"Our children benefit, but the people that are helping them are people that are kind of at a distance," said Magrath. "And when I tell them who it is, they're always like ‘Wow! This is great!'"

The Power Pack program symbol is simply (P3). It works for the name, but perhaps even more for the meaning.

"The food bank profits from it," said Martin. "We bring the stuff from the food bank here. Our residents profit because they get to do something meaningful and the school profits because the kids get food that otherwise they wouldn't have."

An excellent example of how the difference made by paying it forward can multiply exponentially.

Speaking of math, here are some more numbers for you. Food for Others distributes 1,500 power packs each week. Greenspring retirement community is responsible for 160 of them. So that is 1,340 bags that need to be packed weekly and there are schools on waiting lists, so actually, they could pack more if they had the volunteers to help.

If you are interested in helping hungry kids, go to:

If you have anyone you believe is paying it forward and we should bring attention to all of their great work, nominate them here:

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