One of the most beneficial aspects of NFESH’s What A Waste project is the involvement of the seniors at participating senior centers. There is a pride, almost a feeling of ownership, that seniors have for “their” senior center. It is such a wonderful process to watch when we kick-off new What A Waste projects around the country as the seniors themselves get involved and make themselves integral to the success of the project.
The senior involvement is obvious in some ways, such as when they start gardening clubs and composting operations to grow nutritious food at the center and to turn the center’s food waste into nutrient-rich soil for those gardens. Other less obvious ways seniors get involved is through engaging their fellow senior center mates in conversation about healthy eating and the impact of food waste.
Seniors also volunteer to make sure plate waste gets separated properly every day. This volunteering is especially important because some seniors have trouble with balance or lack the dexterity to separate what they didn’t eat into different pans. Having one of their own help those who need it, and help to remind everyone not to discard their uneaten food, makes for a more accurate plate waste study and, in turn, a more effective What A Waste project.
With volunteering being such a critical aspect of successful What A Waste projects, it should’ve come as no surprise who would offer his services as we kicked off West Virginia’s state-wide What A Waste project in St. Albans, WV. Walter “Walt” Filipek sprang into action. Walt, a 92 year-old United States Marine (Retired), has spent his entire life in service, giving to his community, state and country, so why stop now? On Day One of the What A Waste project, Walt, not NFESH, tutored his center mates on the best way to separate their plate waste before getting all of the plates, silverware and trays back into the kitchen for cleaning. It was a wonderful display of selflessness and (of course) efficient logistics.
After lunch was cleaned up and the plate waste was weighed and entered into the Waste Terminator (NFESH’s What A Waste software), we thanked Walt for his help. As that discussion was happening, one of his friends walked by and said “You should know you are talking to a real American hero. Tell him Walt.”
Walt explained that he received a Purple Heart with a Gold Star and Bronze Star for his brave service in WWII. While in Okinawa, Japan, Walt rescued his wounded squad leader from the top of a hill and in the process took out an enemy machine gun nest that was holding up his platoon. It took many years and the help of some friends and politicians for Walt to receive all of the medals he deserved, but ultimately, they arrived. And recently, he explained, he received his greatest honor. In late October 2017, a bridge on Route 60 in St. Albans was named after Walt. He cherishes this honor more than any medal “because I will forever be remembered when people drive through town on that bridge.”
So while Walt’s service to his senior center and friends came as no surprise, meeting this wonderful man…this American hero…is what makes this What A Waste project so special.