We Are Family Elderly Grocery Outreach Program January 21, 2006 (c) Rick Reinhard 2006

For over a decade, We Are Family DC has been a powerhouse of volunteering, advocating and educating when it comes to the lives of senior citizens in the Washington, D.C. area.

Each month, the nonprofit’s 1,000 volunteers step up to call hundreds of seniors, assemble and deliver over 600 grocery bags, visit the elderly in their homes, help with cleaning, and send out personalized birthday cards.

Many of the volunteers do indeed become like family to the seniors—and vice versa. Senior learns computer skills-AFPvideo

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When Mark Andersen, founder and co-director of the organization, was expecting his first child with wife and co-director, Tulin, the elderly residents of Kelsey Apartments across the street from their home spontaneously organized a baby shower for the couple. Though they live at the poverty line, the seniors were so grateful for his help that they pooled their money to buy them a crib, which the baby slept in for his first four years. They have also become babysitters for the couple’s two children.

Mary McBride at Victory Heights retirement home (We Are Family)
Mary McBride at Victory Heights retirement home (We Are Family)

“We have become family in a deep and powerful way,” Andersen said.

Another volunteer became so close with the senior she was visiting—a woman who had no family—that she brought her home to live with her when she found out that when the woman was in danger of having to go to a nursing home. 

As a way to literally get their feet through the door, volunteers start the process by delivering free groceries to seniors. From there, relationships are formed, and volunteers become both friends and advocates from the outside helping with a variety of needs, from transportation to communicating with government officials and landlords.

“More than a social service agency, we are an experiment in building a caring, just, and inclusive community,” said Andersen. “The model can surely be replicated in other locales, with a few tweaks.”

If the volunteers can’t personally help seniors with an issue, they will try to find someone who can. Alice-and-dog-CaregiverCannines-submitted

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“Most of these seniors grew up in a segregated DC and have lots of painful memories of that,” Andersen said. “Our work is to help with the healing of the racial and class divides in particular, to build one community where neighbors look out for each other past any differences.”

David Grohl Foo Fighters Smiling We Are Family Submitted

Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters is also a big fan of the organization. Before their show at RFK stadium on July 4, he hosted a motorcycle rally and ride as a benefit for the group. Even though there were a few “soggy moments” of rain, they still managed to raise $7,500.

“We also got another $200 in donations at the show at RFK Stadium from folks passing by our table,” said Andersen.

Their ultimate goal is for people to recognize that human beings have a responsibility to one another, to personally help make changes in their community.

“We are the solution. We can’t leave it to any one government, church, synagogue, or business. We have to stand with each other,” he said.

“The basic idea is simple, but revolutionary: look out for your neighbor, wherever you are.”

For more on We Are Family DC, visit them on Facebook. 

Photos courtesy of We Are Family DC

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