1/24/2018

How one retiree found meaning by addressing childhood hunger

Peggy Halderman describes how she found her life's true calling through the Golden Backpack Program

Peggy
By Janet Lipson
Freelance Writer

Sometimes, it's not until that period of life after work when we actually discover our life's work. That was the case for Peggy Halderman, who left the National Park Service after 32 years. “I actually hadn't planned at all what I would do next,” said Halderman. Little did she know that her path would lead her to start a nonprofit in 2008 that has served more than 485,000 meals to hungry children in Golden, Colorado.

“I had always thought about becoming a chef, but it's not something I got serious about until after retirement,” said Halderman. Getting serious meant earning her executive chef certification. And that's when it all began coming together. Soon after completing her certification, she became interested in addressing childhood hunger. Halderman was shocked to learn that in her hometown of Golden, which is one of the state's more affluent cities, childhood hunger was an issue.

“Right in my own backyard, there were more than 900 low–income children getting free and reduced meals during the school day. But about 450 of them were going hungry on weekends,” said Halderman. She realized that there was an opportunity to use her chef training to make nutritious meals that would help address the weekend hunger problem.

That realization lead Halderman to start the Golden Backpack Program (GBP), a volunteer–driven organization that has provided health food to school children since 2008. The program provides a backpack full of food to children who receive meal assistance at school during the week but who would otherwise go hungry over the weekend.

Looking back, Halderman remarks, “The entire issue of hidden childhood hunger was indeed an accident of discovery, and it went from there.”

The first five years of the program were more successful than she imagined. A network of friends, colleagues and local city officials helped fund the GBP. The Developmental Disabilities Resource Center provided warehouse space and offered to pick up the food, pack it and deliver it to the schools. And with input from the community, it was time to think about expanding the program to year–round.

“To see the sheer joy on the faces of little kids when they get their weekly sacks of food or their amazement at all the fresh, healthy food from the co–op, well, that's all our amazing volunteer team needs.”
– Peggy Halderman

Halderman's work was getting noticed. In 2013 she was honored at the White House as one of the Champions of Change in Rotary. With this recognition, the Golden Backpack Program soon became a top nominee for Fighting Hunger Together 2013, a national campaign sponsored by Walmart and Feeding America, and as a result, GBP was awarded a $20,000 grant.

Never had Halderman anticipated that her retirement years would be the most rewarding. And now with the Golden Backpack Program's newest venture, the Fresh Food Co–op, they can provide even higher–quality meals, serving food donated by Whole Foods, Sprouts and Trader Joe's.

Halderman is working harder in retirement than she ever has. But she says it doesn't feel like it's work, and her quality of life is off the charts. “To see the sheer joy on the faces of little kids when they get their weekly sacks of food or their amazement at all the fresh, healthy food from the co–op, well, that's all our amazing volunteer team needs.”

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The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and individuals quoted and should not be construed as a recommendation or as complete. Janet Lipson is not affiliated with Jackson National Life Distributors LLC.

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