Charolette Tidwell: “Service was something that I’ve always been involved in.”
NBC News screenshot 

When most people retire, they gather up their retirement money and look forward to spending their days unwinding after years of work. Perhaps they take a cruise or move to Florida.

But Charolette Tidwell has dedicated her pension funds toward running a food pantry where she feeds 7,000 people a month in her hometown of Fort Smith, Ark., NBC News reported.

"The community that I was raised in did this," Tidwell said. "My mom did it. The folks at the church did it. The nuns at the school that I went to elementary school did it," Tidwell pointed out. "We were mentored into this kind of work. Service was something that I've always been involved in."

The retired nurse works, unpaid, at the food pantry six days a week. She hands out 500,000 meals a year, helping to shore up a town that has gone through layoffs and closures of factories, according to NBC.

"I was raised in poverty, and I understand all the issues that go along with not having enough money," she said.

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In 2000 Tidwell started this give-back effort after discovering that elderly people in her town were consuming pet food for protein. "Allowing the generation that raised us to go to the point that they're eating cat food and dog food—I can't imagine that," the retired nurse told the news channel. "I think it's a forgotten population."

So for years Tidwell has pretty much single-handedly kept the pantry afloat, saving enough for necessities by being frugal with utility expenditures and finding the best deals on food. Now small grants are supplementing the pantry's budget. 

"If they have a persistence or purpose to come here, I have the obligation to serve them … in a compassionate, respectful way," Tidwell told NBC News. 

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Read more at NBC News.