Retirees Share Sense of Purpose, Give Back to Community

Valley Outreach program coordinator Caleb Mingus refills the apple sauce supply as Retirees United volunteers Judie Atkins, Jeanette Burfeind, Gloria Alt and Mary Pat Flandrick (a fellow Education Minnesota retiree) pause in filling weekend food supplies for school kids.
Valley Outreach program coordinator Caleb Mingus refills the apple sauce supply as Retirees United volunteers Judie Atkins, Jeanette Burfeind, Gloria Alt and Mary Pat Flandrick (a fellow Education Minnesota retiree) pause in filling weekend food supplies for school kids.

Several AFSCME retirees move quickly down a row of boxes, grabbing child-sized cans and boxes of food and putting them into blue plastic bags.

Those grocery bags containing 10 items of food are the only thing standing between children and a hungry weekend in the Stillwater region. They’ll be tucked into 280 students’ backpacks in several schools to make sure kids who qualify for free and reduced lunch have enough to eat over the weekend.

Thanks to volunteers like the AFSCME Council 5 Retirees United East Metro Subchapter, Valley Outreach - a nonprofit that supplies food, clothing and emergency assistance – will provide more than 8,500 of these weekend snack packs to kids this year.

“It offers a consistent supply of food,” says Valley Outreach executive director Tracy Maki. “One of the principals says that what he likes about it is kids come to school ready to learn, not ready for their first meal of the week.”

Volunteering for groups like this is one of several ways that AFSCME Retirees United members give back all year long. There are six chapters across Minnesota who work closely together. Even though members retired after years spent serving the public, their desire to give back didn’t go away or even dim.

“We like to volunteer and make things better,” says Judie Atkins, president of the East Metro Subchapter. “We all have a sense of helping and giving back. It gives us a purpose.”

“I was born and raised in Minnesota,” says subchapter vice president Gloria Alt. “I’ll support Minnesota however I can.”

Maki marveled at how fast Retirees United members packed the bags for kids, quickly filling two pallets.

“They know how to work,” Maki says. “The AFSCME folks, because they’ve had that grounding in the giving back to community, they show up no questions asked. They show up with a joyful heart. Particularly with retirees, these people have done their time, they’ve put in their hours, they continue to find a way to be connected.”

The Retirees United volunteers filled two pallets with bags of food to help prevent school children from being hungry this weekend. They include (left to right): Jeanette Burfeind, Mary Pat Flandrick (a retiree friend from Education Minnesota), Ron Krueger, Judie Atkins and Gloria Alt.
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Atkins says she’s thankful that no matter what’s going on, members always come to help. Halloween was no exception. Even though there was candy to give out and parties to attend, members showed up. Atkins herself filled a crockpot with beans and another with sloppy joes for her husband’s birthday later that night, then headed out to volunteer.

Some of the members came in Halloween costumes.

“It’s just being together,” Atkins says. “We all get along very well. We always have fun whatever we do.”

“It keeps you going, really it does,” says Alt, who worked for the state Department of Finance (now Minnesota Management and Budget) for more than 31 years.  “I keep learning all the time. I love it. To learn something new, my life is worth something. This is my hometown and I want to see it do the best that it can, and I want to be part of that. And we’ve got the best doing it!”

Along with volunteering, Retirees United members are active watchdogs at the Capitol, attending hearings and meeting with lawmakers. They knock on doors and phone bank during the legislative session and elections.

“It’s important to look out for the retirees, for our pensions and our health care,” Atkins says. “It’s important that we stay active and have a presence because we have a face. We have members. It’s important for our legislators to know that - we vote.”

“Public employees are the best,” Alt adds. “It seems like everybody keeps trying to put us down and screw us if they can. I say, No! We’re retired, but we’re not gone. And they’re going to know it!”

That fierceness extends to protecting current and future retirees, and to each other.

While Alt is happy to work in the background and have leaders like Atkins serve in the forefront, “I support her all the way. If she falls back, she’s going to fall back on me,” Alt says. “Then I’m going to get really pissed. That’s how I feel about it. I will support that group until the day I die.”

Want to stay active and connect with new friends?  Join Retirees United by contacting us at retirees@AFSCMEmn.org or 1-855-377-0237.