Lakewood Department of Human Services/Division of Aging Nutrition Programs Providing Nourishment to Senior Residents, Body and Soul
As I watched Lakewood residents stream into the senior center, there was an unmistakable sense of community not only among the residents but also the volunteers and staff. People were coming together over meals provided by the Division of Aging. While observing their interactions with one another, it is obvious that residents are not simply receiving a meal; they are building relationships and staying connected to their community. It’s hard to say whether it was the smiles on their faces or the strong sense of fraternity within the center, but one thing is certain about the meal program; it has a positive affect on everyone it touches.
In 1973, the City of Lakewood through the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging started a congregate and home-delivered meal program to provide healthy lunches to people age 60 years and older. The program is not only about receiving a nutritious meal but also allows for socializing with peers and is a venue for seniors to stay engaged in their community. The congregate and home-delivered meals contain one third of a participant’s daily dietary needs. A registered dietitian creates a monthly menu and Division of Aging staff members compile a monthly activity calendar. Together, these documents are printed and made available to participants and the general public. The information is also posted on the City’s web site, www.onelakewood.com under the Department of Human Services/Division of Aging.
Ron Guy, a senior who has been involved in volunteering and other activities at the Lawther Senior Center for the past two years, told me that the program gives him a chance to get out of the house and interact with people his own age. Ron explained, “I need people to talk to. I have friends here and they depend on me to come”. The congregate meal program and the center is a home away from home for Ron. He and the other participants made it clear it is beneficial for them to be around people in “like situations”, giving them a chance to forget about their problems and enjoy time and lunch together.
The congregate meals are served to residents at 11:45 am Monday through Friday at the Lawther Senior Center (16024 Madison Avenue) and Senior Center East (12400 Madison Avenue). Anyone 60 years of age and older is welcome. Each person served under this program can voluntarily contribute to the cost of the meal. The suggested meal donation is $1.00 for both home-delivered and congregate meals. Programs are provided during the congregate lunches that include information on activities in Lakewood. According to Ron, it keeps them informed on what is happening in their community. Reserving a meal is as simple as signing up through the Division’s Nutrition Office by calling (216) 529-5000. Transportation to both meal sites is available if needed.
An eight-year participant in the congregate lunch program, Doris Fescer explained that because of her poor eyesight she depends on people at the center. “Without them I wouldn’t be informed on community activities.” Doris explained that she loves coming to the senior center because the people here encourage her to go to events such as the annual senior picnic that was held at Lakewood Park in July. Humanities, a program Doris really enjoys, is facilitated by a volunteer who reads the letters to “Dear Abby” from the newspaper. After the reading, the seniors discuss the situations and give their advice on what the writer should do. Today Doris was delayed in getting to the center and she missed the “Dear Abby” program. The Humanities volunteer took Doris aside and read the articles to her, repeating the program just for Doris.
Home-delivered meals are available to Lakewood residents who are homebound often due to health issues and are unable to prepare their own meals. Individuals in need of home-delivered meals can be referred to the Division of Aging by various sources, including community and hospital social workers, family members, and caregivers. Residents can also make a self-referral for a service assessment. Once the need for home-delivered meals is determined meals are started immediately. Each day Monday through Friday volunteers deliver 130 hot meals to the homes of older residents. As a new member to the Lakewood community, I understand how hard it is to live far away from your family. Some people don’t have family nearby to keep them company and help prepare meals, so the smiling face of a volunteer means so much to the program participants. As an observer, it was easy to see the senior residents were deeply grateful for the hot lunches they received through both meal programs. After speaking with both Ron and Doris I now understand how important the meals are; they are so much more than meals. Not only are seniors receiving lunch, but they are also growing as individuals and staying connected to their community. When delivering meals to the homes, I could see how much each person appreciated the hot meal given to them. Sometimes with age comes disadvantages and for individuals who cannot cook for themselves, the home-delivered meals lift a huge burden off their shoulders and have helped to keep them healthy. Whether individuals are receiving congregate or home-delivered meals one thing is clear: the Division of Aging meal programs provide nourishment to senior residents, body and soul.