Senior Strong: Shirley Washington

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“I’m not ashamed of anything in my life” says Shirley, who, at 62, participates in both the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help support herself.

“I’m not ashamed of anything in my life” says Shirley, who, at 62, participates in both the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help support herself.

Shirley Washington reaches into her freezer and pulls out bagged portions of fruit, which she bought fresh while on sale at the grocery store. “This is how we do it in the south” notes Shirley as she begins assembling her typical breakfast shake. Nuts and 1% milk are added and the mixture whirls loudly in a silver blender. The blender, which spent a year in its box, is now Shirley’s staple appliance.

“I’m not ashamed of anything in my life” says Shirley, who, at 62, participates in both the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help support herself.

Shirley didn’t always need assistance. After moving from North Carolina to DC, she held a number of different jobs until landing at the Interstate Commerce Commission, where she worked as a supervisor for nearly 20 years until the agency closed its doors in 1996. Shirley then worked briefly as a contractor, but unable to find stable work in the field, settled at a radio firm in Bethesda until health issues kept her from going back to work.  It was only recently, after she could no longer afford to shop, that Shirley sought assistance.

Shirley's blender, which previously spent a year in its box, is now one of her staple appliances.

Shirley’s blender, which previously spent a year in its box, is now staple appliance.

Shirley counts on her monthly CSFP grocery bag from the Capital Area Food Bank which includes healthy, staple foods like canned vegetables and fruit, dairy, protein and grains. The bag is a heavy thirty pounds, but it’s still not enough food for the month.  To supplement her CSFP groceries, Shirley receives $28 in SNAP benefits, which she uses to purchase fresh produce from grocery stores and farmers’ markets that double SNAP’s value.

Shirley is lucky. Unlike many DC seniors with fixed incomes, she qualifies for more than the minimum benefit of $15 per month. Her sister encourages her to continue with the program, “Lord it’s not that much, but it’s something.”

Nutritious, fresh foods have changed Shirley’s outlook. To complement the fruit and vegetable smoothies she’s eating, Shirley recently joined a church to socialize and find opportunities to help others and is looking into a water aerobics course to get her moving again.  “I’m on a good path now,” reflect Shirley, “I just want to be healthy. It starts from within.”

During the month of May, you can help the Capital Area Food Bank support seniors like Shirley by making a donation, hosting a food drive, or by raising awareness of senior hunger on Twitter and Facebook using the hashtag #SolveSeniorHunger.

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