- Associated Press - Monday, July 27, 2015

July 27—Photo Gallery

Krysta Harden visits SOWEGA Council on Aging

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USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden visits with Albany seniors Monday while touring the SOWEGA Council on Aging’s Senior Life Enrichment Center as part of the White House Rural Council’s “Rural Impact” efforts.

ALBANY — Some Albany area seniors entertained a special guest Monday when U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden visited the SOWEGA Council on Aging’s Senior Life Enrichment Center to see what the organization is doing to help the plight of those who are struggling with the effects of poverty.

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Harden’s visit is part of the White House Rural Council’s “Rural Impact” effort, which is a coordinated campaign across federal agencies to improve the quality of life and upward mobility of children and families in rural communities.

“It’s really a focus of this administration and the White House to look at poverty, poverty for our kids in rural areas, poverty for our adults in rural areas, so I’m just learning from some of the folks here,” said Harden. “Unfortunately Georgia is fourth in the country for citizens with food insecurity and fifth for our kids. And Dougherty County in particular is second, I believe in Georgia, with citizens with food insecurity.”

Georgia has a 19 percent poverty rate, with 27 percent of Georgia children living in poverty. In Dougherty County, nearly one in three residents live in poverty.

As someone who grew up in a farming family in Southwest Georgia, Harden spoke passionately about her concerns about food insecurity for people surrounded by food.

“What’s troubling to me as the daughter of a farmer who grew up right down the road in Mitchell County, I grew up with an abundance of food, I see it growing everywhere,” she said. “I know there’s the best famers in the country, maybe the world, right down here. Then you think about our neighbors, our friends, just right around the corner who might not know where their food is coming from or how they’re going to feed their kids and family.”

With seniors being one of the demographics that struggles with having access to food, Harden made it a point to visit the Senior Life Enrichment Center which administers the council on aging’s Meals on Wheels (MOW) program in Albany.

According to information provided by Izzie Sadler, development director for the Council on Aging, MOW provides roughly 200 meals a day in Albany alone, while the council’s congregate program, where seniors who are able to physically come to the center to eat, provides an additional 60-100 meals daily.

Overall the SOWEGA Council on Aging serves approximately 960 people in 14 counties and provides an average of 187,000 meals to seniors annually through its nutrition program.

“Unfortunately (food insecurity) really is (a big issue) with a lot of seniors,” said Harden. “And they’re very prideful people and they don’t want to ask for help.”

Harden added that many seniors struggle daily trying to decide whether to spend money on bills, medicine or food, which makes programs like those offered by the Council on Aging important.

Harden said she is impressed with the council’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), which features seniors volunteering their time to provide services to other seniors. RSVP volunteers give of their time in a variety of different ways including taking meals on wheels, and spending time with seniors at the senior life center. One particular group helps build access ramps for seniors at their homes.

“There’s just so many different ways that you can give back to your community,” said Harden. “We have some seniors here who say, ‘I have food, I’m in good health, I have what I need. I want to give back to my neighbors and friends who don’t.’ And it really is what’s best about Southwest Georgia and Albany.”

Even with so many volunteers willing to work to make a difference, Harden said more has to be done to make sure citizens throughout Southwest Georgia and the entire country, have enough to eat.

“This is not something that the federal government’s going to solve or the state government or even the local government,” said Harden. “It’s going to take us all. Its starts with awareness, it starts with understanding the issues and then thinking about solutions. How do we make sure that here in the land of plenty, and certainly in an area that grows a lot of food for folks in our area and all over the country, how are we going to make sure that everyone down here has access to that?”

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