MONROE, La. — Last Friday, a group of students from the University of Louisiana Monroe participated in a community service project with the Ouachita Council on Aging (OCA), a local non-profit organization serving senior citizens in Ouachita Parish since 1967.
The mission of the OCA is to act on behalf of older person(s) to secure needed services and benefits. For nearly 50 years, the OCA has served local senior citizens by providing meals, appropriate healthcare, transportation, outreach, recreation, an emergency response system, among other services.
Since 2008, each ULM freshman class has played an integral role in OCA’s outreach. They have contributed to fundraising efforts by supporting the annual quilt fundraiser, provided care packages for senior participants in the Meals on Wheels program, corresponded with the participants, and donated to the OCA food bank.
Loretta Hudson, the OCA’s outreach coordinator, said that ULM is very instrumental in helping participate and that what ULM students do is very commendable.
“We appreciate this partnership because it is very much appreciated and very worthwhile. And our senior citizens – they love it,” said Hudson.
According Hudson, hunger and isolation are one of the biggest issues in the senior population.
“They are choosing between medication, paying their rent, and then going without food. So, this is something that puts food on their table and that’s not a cost to them,” said Hudson.
This year, the ULM freshman class, comprised of 1,370 students, raised $1,155 in donations, furnished 67 large care baskets containing items for homebound seniors served by the OCA, and replenished the OCA food bank with over 1,000 cans of food.
Hudson said that ULM’s food donation through the Meals on Wheels program put 85,000 meals on tables last year alone, but that’s not all. Each basket contains a personal, hand-written letter by a student that, according to Hudson, is usually very heartwarming and heart-touching.
“Last year, there was a family from Texas whose mother was here. Her son sent us a letter saying that the letter she received from a ULM student made a difference in his mother’s life because he wasn’t there to help her, but the students were. This meant the world to them,” said Hudson.
The ULM freshmen who participated in this year’s Meals on Wheels are part of a required freshman seminar (“University Seminar 1001”) that integrates academics and group activities, including community service. Student peer leaders, who are selected through a competitive application and interview process, serve as role models and leaders for their freshman peers.
A sophomore pre-nursing major, Gauge Stringer, was one of the peer leaders who said he decided to get involved in the project.
“Some of the individuals we collected items and canned goods for may not receive many gifts all year, and I think they deeply appreciate this simple act,” said Stringer. “The OCA project impacted me by giving me a chance to show generosity and compassion myself, but to also see my fellow students and ULM contribute to the betterment of a great, local institution like the Ouachita Council on Aging.”
Dr. Nick J. Bruno, ULM president, says that ULM’s participation in the Meals on Wheels program is a reflection of the university’s commitment to serving the community.
“Here at ULM, we are dedicated to bettering the lives of our students, both inside and outside of the classroom,” said Bruno. “The Meals on Wheels program facilitates this goal by providing an important opportunity for our students to give back to the senior citizens of our community.”
The OCA operates in ten satellite sites throughout the parish. To learn more about the OCA or how to get involved as a volunteer, please contact Lynda McGhee at 318-387-0535.