“It is so much more than soup”. This is how seniors in Golden, B.C describe the Seniors Lunch Program that’s run by the Community Response Network and Golden Community Resources Society.
Launched in April 2020, during COVID-19, the program was formed to help with the difficulties faced by seniors in the area during the pandemic. The Seniors Navigator, Mickey Balas, and the Community Development Age Friendly Coordinator, Lynne Romano, acted immediately to secure funding for the program as well as to rally volunteers to support it. The volunteers are instrumental in the success of the Seniors Lunch Program. They deliver soup to local seniors and they’ve also set up a number of other ways to support them, including setting up a seniors’ phone tree, rallying local musicians to play live music on a weekly basis outside the seniors’ care homes through the window, and making connection with the Golden seniors a priority. Volunteers remark that, through the program, they’ve been able to access the most vulnerable of seniors in Golden and surrounding area. One volunteer, Cherisse Feldberg, says it makes her heart feel good to give back to the community in this way.
Along with the soup, any number of “extras” get delivered, which may include food from the food bank, books, puzzles, and even seeds for gardening. The most important part of the delivery comes with information about elder abuse and a homemade mask made by a local senior and donated to the program. Through this valuable program, connection is made with vulnerable seniors who may not have any other supports during this difficult time. The seniors also benefit from the connections facilitated through the program with other seniors’ services and resources. The program also allows for easy opportunities for conversations about many topics, including elder abuse and wellness.
The biggest impact of the program is the fostering of connection, both among the seniors themselves, as well as with their community. They have been given opportunities to connect with each other in a number of ways during this critical time. Volunteers say “they get way more than they give during these memorable moments"
Pride sometimes makes it difficult for some people to accept needed help. The Seniors' Lunch Program approached this sensitively by delivering soup in return for a promise from the recipient senior to call five other seniors to check in, connect, and perhaps share information about resources. Many of the program recipients, now grown to 75-90 each week, have been referred by other seniors.
There is also a group of widowers who the program challenged to connect with each other by sharing jokes and stories with the occasional lunch together via Zoom. Lynne, Age Friendly Coordinator, says that this was a success in boosting mental health for these men who, as one said, “couldn’t even go golfing!” As Lynne says "We are aware that mental health can deteriorate as a result of the isolation and the 2-3 calls every week may be the only interaction a senior may have. It has been so meaningful, even as we supported seniors who have lost partners during this time."
As the program was rolled out, more vulnerable seniors were identified who had basic needs, such as access to food. The Food Bank was approached and volunteers then became engaged in delivering extra food to those in need. Some seniors were introduced and connected to the community paramedic, as well as other helpful resources. Lynne describes her experience with one aspect of the program as “rewarding to hear stories and learn what we could to help them pass time and then offer books and puzzles along with regular updates from the local doctors about COVID.” For those seniors without internet, notices from the Centre for Disease Control are made available in a window at the Youth Center and Post Office in downtown Golden. This allowed those seniors to have access to up to date information about Covid-19 and how they could stay safe.
In addition to these critical program supports, Mickey, Senior Navigator for the Golden Community Resources Society and Community Response Network, has remained available to provide support to the seniors in the form of assistance with taxes, housing, pension, new arrivals to the area, and elder abuse. Mickey says she has never been busier with seniors needing access to resources that have been closed during COVID and offering reassurance that things will be different, but ok.
The story of the Golden Seniors Table, Seniors Lunch Program can’t be told without the important contributions made by the local musicians. More than five times, volunteer musicians from the Bagpipe Group have played the bagpipes outside seniors’ homes at dinner time. They’ve even been playing for birthdays and other special occasions too, once a special request was made by a Scottish gal and the bagpiper returned and played just for Mary. The Bagpipers play Friday's at 7 pm at the hospital, thanking staff and then they march around a local seniors complex. There are so many who look forward to this event. A group of volunteer youth fiddlers from the Metis Association have also played for the seniors and have become very fond of those they see through the windows. As Lynne says “It was heartwarming to see how excited they got.” The seniors gather at the window to hear the gals and feel truly blessed to have this to look forward to each week.
The program wouldn’t have been possible without the Community Response Network grant, whose support was expanded with the help of additional funding provided by the Columbia Valley Credit Union, Columbia Basin Trust, United Way, the local Golden District Community Foundation, and New Horizons. New Horizons provided the opportunity to take the existing grant and revamp it to serve the community needs during COVID. The CRN even funded one dinner - a real treat for 75 seniors…, and Lynne said "we would love to do more of those". There was worry that the program would end, but the funders stepped up to allow for its continuance Lynne noted “On-going seniors support is vital and needs to be a priority as most of us continue to operate grant to grant. With the current funds, the program can run into the fall and we will continue to look for funders to be able to continue in future."
Volunteers have also been instrumental in navigating the program’s supports and many have become and remain connected to the seniors they help. “Engaging with local musicians, Food Bank, and rallying the seniors themselves to call their friends to offer support was amazing.”
In summary, Lynne and Mickey say that during COVID “the services we provided were project-based and this has been an opportunity to really connect at so many levels with seniors. We went to the doors of the most vulnerable and established relationships that enabled us to help.”