A Million Meals in Miami: AARP Foundation and Dolphins deliver for hungry seniors

September 24, 2014

Bob Somerville, AARP Foundation

The first volunteers began arriving at Sun Life Stadium in Miami at 5:30 in the morning on Saturday, Sept. 20, and soon there were so many waiting to take part that the organizers decided to open up early. That’s how the first major event in the new collaboration between AARP Foundation and the Miami Dolphins got under way.

Courtesy, AARP Foundation

Courtesy, AARP Foundation

By the end of the day, some 4,000 volunteers that included former players, executives of both organizations, AARP members and recruits from a variety of local community groups had packed and delivered a million meals to food banks throughout South Florida under the auspices of Feeding South Florida. (A late-afternoon thunderstorm meant the packers had to stop at 950,000, but the full million meals were delivered.)

It was an ambitious venture, which the numbers make clear. The meals were packed six to a bag, 36 bags to a box, for a total of 4,630 boxes and 150,000 pounds of food.

One of the things that makes the relationship between the Dolphins and AARP Foundation work so well is that they both have the support of strong teams of volunteers who are eager to help those in need. The Dolphins have a volunteer program known as Special Teams Driven by Chevy that performs many different community services and provided a ready source of packers for this event. And AARP and AARP Foundation’s Drive to End Hunger program has lots of experience recruiting volunteers for meal-packing events at NASCAR races and other venues throughout the year.

The 4,000 people who showed up Saturday morning were given AARP Foundation T-shirts in the Dolphins signature color, aqua, with the slogan “Stronger Together” printed on the back. They worked, assembly-line fashion, in groups of a dozen or so, putting together the fortified rice and bean dinners being packed in the bags and boxes.

“These are really nutritious, high-protein meals that help [hungry seniors] get the food that they don’t get every day,” said AARP Foundation President

Volunteers packing meals. Courtesy, AARP Foundation

Volunteers packing meals. Courtesy, AARP Foundation

Lisa Marsh Ryerson. “It’s incredibly meaningful in their lives what we’re doing today.”

What made the event such a success? “The reason why it works,” said Ryerson, “is that the Miami Dolphins organization and AARP Foundation are both committed to helping people in need in the community.”

AARP Foundation and the Dolphins announced their multiyear collaboration back in May, and it’s not just about addressing the issue of senior hunger. Throughout the year, the two organizations will hold events including financial education workshops, home rehabilitation projects, get-togethers to help seniors stay connected to their community, and other hunger-related initiatives. The goal is to win back opportunity for struggling older adults in South Florida across all four of AARP Foundation’s Impact areas: Hunger, Income, Housing and Isolation.

Speaking of the relationship, AARP Foundation’s Jim Lutzweiler, vice president for the Hunger Impact team, said, “It’s a tremendous opportunity. And that’s what really brought us together, to understand how we were able

AARP Foundation Hunger VP Jim Lutzweiler assists packing. Courtesy, AARP Foundation.

AARP Foundation Hunger VP Jim Lutzweiler assists packing. Courtesy, AARP Foundation.

to bring our membership and a loyal fan base from the Miami Dolphins together collaboratively to start addressing issues that are very relevant to our families and our aunts and uncles and grandparents and parents here in the South Florida community.”

Former Dolphins player O.J McDuffie was one of those 4,000 volunteers, and the event made a big impression on him, as it did on just about everyone who was there. “The Dolphins are always in a giving mood,” said McDuffie. “With AARP Foundation, it’s just a great collaboration of a great organization with a great organization trying to make something happen in this world.”