Needy seniors get holiday help

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Joel Hall


James Willoughby, 66, of Riverdale, once made a living performing heating and air-conditioning maintenance. A few years ago, however, Willoughby's legs were amputated due to complications from diabetes.

Since then, Willoughby has been homebound and has relied on in-home care and Meals on Wheels dinners provided by the Clayton County Aging Program -- a division of the Clayton County Senior Services Department. On Tuesday, volunteers from the county's Aging Program and GE Capital supplied Willoughby, and other needy seniors in Clayton County, with special Thanksgiving care packages.

According to Rosanna Smith, aging manager for the Clayton County Senior Services Department, the county's aging program put together large care packages using items from the program's food bank, and food donated by GE Capital. On Tuesday morning, volunteers took those care packages to seven families in Jonesboro, Riverdale and Forest Park.

"Our food pantry is quite small, so we run out of food quite often," Smith said. "Thanksgiving is a special holiday [and] with that, we wanted to make sure that as many people as we could identify, who are homebound and can't go out and buy dinner ... that they can have that. These were seniors we already serve and the case managers are very familiar with their needs."

Each care package consisted of a large box containing canned fruits, vegetables and meats, and pasta, rice, and household cleaning supplies, as well as a large, wrapped bag containing toilet paper, potatoes au gratin and several types of cereal.

Willoughby, who lives with his wife, Brenda, who is also disabled, said Tuesday's visit was "extremely helpful."

"We were going to eat [during Thanksgiving]," James Willoughby said. "We knew that, but this is going to extend the eating a lot. There's a lot of people out there needing help. We've managed to pull through, sometimes by the skin of our teeth, but it is really exceptional that this has happened."

Joan Byrd, 65, a recipient of Meals on Wheels from Jonesboro, also received a care package on Tuesday. Byrd, who suffers from asthma, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), said the package will make the holidays a little easier.

"I'm on a lot of medicine and I don't do much but sit here and take my medicine," Byrd said. "These people take care of us. It [the care package] will help put dinner on the table ... We can't just go out and buy it. If it wasn't for them, we couldn't manage."

Stephanie Richardson, a recovery specialist with GE Capital, said the business donates to several local charities, but was inspired to do more this holiday season.

"I looked at the [local] pantries and there is not enough food," Richardson said. "There are just so many people in need. We still wanted to assist the elders. In some ways, they are like the forgotten community ... Those are the people that need to be taken care of."