This February, TNFP began providing lunches to Friend’s Life Community, a nonprofit that empowers adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their Friends, to live as independently as possible as they age out of other support services. Their mission is to create opportunities for teenagers and adults with disabilities to develop socially, grow personally, and enjoy community as they experience life together.
TNFP’s first question for any new, prospective meal partnership is “how can food support what’s going on in your community?” For Friend’s Life, this question had a unique answer.
A big part of Friend’s Life programming is to get Friends out in the community to practice daily life skills. When the Friends were going out together to restaurants, the staff saw that ordering food was a big challenge. They had an idea to set up a simulation in their own facility that would allow the Friends to practice social and money math skills.
“We wanted to set up the cafe because we saw some deficits and places that we could grow our social skills and grow our manners. This simulation is giving them the chance to practice that here before we take it back out in the community and see how we learned,” said Jenna Sutter Brown.
“We’re taking things step by step,” she adds.
At first, Friends were asked to choose between two entree options for lunch at the cafe they set up in their facility. Now, the Friends are placing their order from a menu with a cashier. Friends line up and order one at a time, and then pick up their food from “the kitchen.” The next learning objective Friend’s Life staff plan to implement is to simulate payment by pre-loading debit cards for Friends to use at the counter. Eventually, they hope to help each Friend develop “go-to” orders for several restaurants in town, even making cards with pictures of food for those Friends with limited verbal skills.
TNFP’s relationship with Friend’s Life began with the Friends volunteering in our gardens. “Not being able to see the reward right away is tough…Now we have the connection between all the work to what actually ends up on their plate. It brings it full circle for them,” Jenna tells us. Much of the produce the Friends help grow in TNFP's gardens end up in their meals.
Health concerns can be a challenge for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, so encouraging nutrient-dense foods is a priority at Friend’s Life. Staff have long emphasized healthy choices, but since Friends would bring their food from home they weren’t able to introduce new foods.
Jenna explains, “This gives us a little bit of control, knowing that (TNFP) is going to provide us with something that is filled with colorful, rich, vitamin-filled good food. That gives us peace of mind. We’re seeing that if we give them the option, they’re willing to try new things and actually like it.”
The ability to provide a nutritious meal is part of our mission, but knowing that Friends Life takes it further within their community by linking the meal to skill development is immensely gratifying.