Robert Nowell, 72, remembers barely being able to walk up the steps in the subway station. Elizabeth Williams, 84, recalls looking to improve her way of living with Type 2 diabetes.

Now, the two Philadelphia residents are both leading healthier lifestyles that have boosted their well-being and turned them into inspirations for others.

Nowell and Williams live in separate HumanGood affordable housing communities for older adults, of which there are 36 in Philadelphia. HumanGood also has three life-plan communities in the area and is the sixth-largest nonprofit senior living provider in the country.

Since 2016, HumanGood residents have benefited from the Cupboards of Care program, which has raised more than $316,000 to improve food security and healthy eating habits in the Philadelphia region.

Not only do residents learn about nutrition, but every three months, program participants receive a $100 gift card to purchase healthy food and produce. (According to a 2019 report from Feeding America, about 13.1% of older adults in the Philadelphia metro area struggle with food insecurity.)

Since June 2018, Philadelphia residents have bought more than 12,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables through the Cupboards of Care program, said Lynn Johnson-Porter, vice president of philanthropy for HumanGood.

Robert Nowell says becoming part of the Cupboards of Care program since its inception in 2016 has helped turn his life around.
Courtesy HumanGood
Robert Nowell says becoming part of the Cupboards of Care program since its inception in 2016 has helped turn his life around.

Thanks to the program, Nowell, who has participated in Cupboards of Care since its inception, has turned his life around. Before he started, he carried 254 pounds on his 5-foot-7 frame. Now, he tips the scale at 190.

“I was carrying a little gut with me,” he said. “I used to feel sluggish, not wanting to do anything because of the weight that was on me, and not getting anything out of life. Now I exercise and eat properly.”

He’s lowered his blood pressure since joining the program, too. And he has become an inspiration to his six children and 29 grandchildren in the way he maintains his healthy lifestyle and encourages others in his community to do the same.

“He cooks food and shares it with others who are not currently enrolled in the program, so he’s becoming an ambassador and teaching others how to live healthier lifestyles,” said HumanGood’s Johnson-Porter.

Nowell loves to cook. His specialty?

“Boneless chicken with some vegetables,” he said.

The greatest benefit of being in Cupboards of Care, Nowell said, is being healthy enough to spend more quality time with his children and grandchildren.

“My grandkids, they can’t keep up with me sometimes,” he said, laughing.

Williams, who has diabetes, joined Cupboards of Care two years ago. Even before joining, she concedes, she was making great strides in dealing with diabetes. But the program has been of great assistance.

“I have been very blessed to be able to get most everything I need through the program,” she said. “It has been very, very helpful because I have to be very careful of my diet.”

She said she has been adhering to a more nutritious diet and is feeling better because of it. The gift cards have also been appreciated.

“I can get more things that way. That money helps a lot,” she said.

Like Nowell, Williams lives by herself, but has plenty of family around, including three daughters who live within walking distance from her. (She also has a son in South Carolina.)

Williams says her children watch out for her.

“Sometimes they get on my nerves,” she said with a laugh. Then, turning serious, she added, “But it’s great that they care so much.”

Williams has several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Like Nowell, she is an inspiration to them in the way she is living a healthy lifestyle.

“I am just trying to take care of myself,” she said.