I have been a fortunate foot soldier in the fight against senior hunger for quite some time. I've been witness to some amazing people working in some amazing places performing amazing "miracles." Each of those people has taught me about tenacity, commitment, compassion, and courage. That's what it takes to eradicate hunger. Senior hunger is a challenge compounded by a simple truth: seniors are the hidden hungry. They are living among us but don't want our pity, our sympathy or sometimes what they perceive as our handouts.
Americans are a giving people. We have a tendency to help our neighbors. We are a generous people. We donate to causes in which we believe. We are a gracious people. We volunteer our time and talents to help others. This is the American fabric. Or so we'd like to believe. But is this just an American phenomenon? Are other countries waging a war against senior hunger? Are they enlisting corporate help? Volunteers?
Those questions are what leads me to Poland. In fact, that's what led me to Poland in the middle of August. I received a phone call from a nice young man in March of 2012. He was a top leader in an American-owned restaurant company headquartered in a place called Wroclaw, Poland, inquiring about senior hunger in Poland. Knowing nothing about him, his company or his country I immediately took the challenge and decided that I would find out about senior hunger in Poland. Much to my chagrin there wasn't much research about the problem. There was no question that the population of those 65 and older in Wroclaw was almost 20% and that the city and country were not exactly "rich." I drew the conclusion that senior hunger (along with hunger in other age cohorts) would be on the rise. The scant research available lead me to believe that I was correct.
This young man was persistent. He knew that he had to do something about the problem in his adopted country. He has lived there for twenty years now. He married a very pretty Polish woman and together they have a beautiful son, aged 2. He and his wife are dogged in their pursuit of ending senior hunger in the City of Wroclaw first and then their thoughts grow bigger. Why not think about the entire country and then look to the Czech Republic and then Hungary? Drew (that's his name) is the regional president of company and those countries are under his purview. Drew thinks big. His heart is equal to the task.
I began working on the project from afar and, quite frankly, became somewhat frustrated about the lack of information, resources, or data I could find on the extent of the problem and, therefore, the beginning of a plan to try to fix the problem. After many phone calls with Drew and his lovely wife Jola, I was invited to Poland to see first-hand what it was we were talking about. I wanted to dig in a little and get a sense of the City and its people. I wanted to meet the players and perhaps talk to some seniors. I received quite an education in my six days there.
Wroclaw, pre-WWII, was actually a German city. As such, it was the last major German city that would bow to the Nazis and those who lived there saw their city and the lives of 170,000 of her citizens murdered. Seventy percent of the city was gone and the Old Town, a once (and present) wonderful epicenter, was 90 percent gone. Prior to the War, 30,000 buildings comprised the city. After the war they numbered only 8,400.
Needless to say, Wroclaw has clawed its way back and is now a vibrant mix of architecture and art and music and people. Because communism became the dominant political force in Poland until not that long ago, much remains to be "fixed" in the country. But the inhabitants, both young and old, are willing to work to right so many of the wrongs.
I could go on and on about Wroclaw and my new mission of working with my new friends Drew and Jola and Ana and Henry and and and, but I will leave those stories for another day. For now it is imperative that I say that the history of Poland and the Polish people transcend- the setbacks that we will face along the way. Ending senior hunger in Wroclaw will not be done with just one visit to this wonderful city. No, it takes time and effort and patience and fortitude. In our country we have extraordinary programs that endeavor to do just that but we have been building them and perfecting them and updating them since right after World War II. What took decades to develop here will not happen in Wroclaw overnight. I wish it could. But I will continue to work with my new friends because I have a vested interest in their success too. My family has deep Polish roots. While many in my family tree may have perished during the War in Poland, those of us who are alive today must never forget that we owe it to those who fought so valiantly on the side of good against evil. This is my challenge. I have time. We just need patience.