By Grace Biggs, TNFP’s Impact Manager
The barriers our community face can seem overwhelming. Today's seniors are more likely to have chronic diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity than ever before, leading to increasing healthcare costs which further burden seniors living on a fixed income.
More and more, research is showing the importance of nutrition to good health among older adults. According to this report on Tennessee seniors, about 1 in 6 older adults in our state is food insecure. This report also found that for every 100 seniors with independent living difficulty in Tennessee only 3.6 home-delivered meals are available: the lowest percentage available among all other US states.
At The Nashville Food Project, we understand health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being -- not merely the absence of disease. And we know that good food alone is not a solution to these complex problems. That’s why we make sure our nutritious meals and snacks are supporting the vibrant, creative work of other anti-poverty and community-building organizations in our city.
Meals On Wheels and Mobile Meals programs are an essential service, supporting not only nutrition but also regular social contact and ‘safety checks’ for homebound seniors. Or as one mobile meal participant put it, “All the carriers make me feel that a friend dropped by.”
TNFP is on track to cook and share over 51,000 senior meals this year, thanks to deep partnerships with incredible local senior-serving partner organizations and significant support from West End Home Foundation, National Benevolent Association and Dandridge Trust.
Here’s a look at the many ways a few of TNFP’s senior-serving meal partners are supporting seniors in our community with home-delivered meals and community-building programs:
The Ark, a senior-serving TNFP meals partner added in 2018, was founded to address severe gaps in social services and community resources in South Cheatham County, including Pegram and Kingston Springs. TNFP provides made-from-scratch meals for The Ark’s Meals On Wheels program 3 days a week, as well as a weekly community meal shared in their Resource Center.
“Our motto is very simple,” says Anne Carty, Program Director with the Ark. “We want to help people stay afloat when they have a time of need. Rather than leading the food prep and the decision-making of menus, we’re able to pick up the food from The Nashville Food Project, repackage it to send out for Meals On Wheels or serve it at our Wednesday lunch. Then we can really concentrate on the other services, especially for homebound seniors, like home repair and utility assistance.”
These meals wouldn’t be served without the hard work of committed Ark staff and volunteers. Butch Rogers and Melanie Smiley, who both work with Ark’s Meals On Wheels program, pick up the food from TNFP’s California Avenue kitchen 3 times a week. The following mornings, Melanie arrives at Pegram United Methodist Church to package the meals to be ready for volunteers to make the home deliveries. On Wednesdays, she also heats up the food for seniors coming to the resource center for a weekly community meal.
“They love the companionship,” says Melanie. “They get to see each other each week and catch up on things that are going on. And there’s also a hot game of bingo after the meal. And nobody interferes with that hot game of bingo, let me tell you!”
“I think the food plays a big part of it, because they’re talking to people they haven’t talked to before, and they’re talking about the food -- ‘I haven’t had this before, I haven’t tried this before.’ You have to sell it because it’s not food they’re used to. I’m a big seller. Then they come back and say, ‘Oh Melanie, you were right, it was so good!’ And they’re cleaning their plates. That makes me feel really good when they clean their plates.”
Visit the Ark’s website to learn more about their work and what you can do to support.
FiftyForward has been in existence since 1956, and their home-delivered meals started in 1969. So for about 50 years, they prepared their own meals in-house with their own cook and an assistant cook. “The meals were what people would typically think of as a home-delivered meal,” shared Gretchen, Associate Executive Director at FiftyForward. “We did a great job, but then we looked up and saw their were community partners like The Nashville Food Project available. TNFP brings all that expertise of fresh, locally sourced food. And we can bring the senior service piece. So it’s been just beautiful.”
When FiftyForward first began considering a partnership with TNFP, Gretchen shared that some were unsure about the change and whether the older adults would be interested in the menus. “It’s a different variety of food than we’d had,” explained Gretchen. “So we did a two week pilot, and every day we had a nutrition student ask participants ask what they thought about the lunches. And on the very last day, I’m walking through the adult day service area one of our participants called me over, saying ‘Ms. Gretchen, Ms. Gretchen, come see what we’re eating!’ It was this beautiful, very fresh potato salad, and fresh green salad, and a barbeque sandwich. Then she said, ‘This is the best meal.’ And there you go! Right from the mouth of the person that we’re aiming to serve. From there, we expanded our partnership to cover all of our meals beginning in 2018, and it’s just been a wonderful partnership where we can share our expertise and really serve seniors well.”
The Nashville Food Project currently supports FiftyForward’s home delivered meal program, FiftyForward Fresh Meals On Wheels, and a daily lunch for their adult day service program for older adults who can’t remain home safely alone during the day -- a total of about 550 weekly meals. This summer we were also able to prepare extra meals for a senior’s summer singing program at FiftyForward’s KNOWLES center.
“We understand now that nutrition is so important to older adults as they age,” says Gretchen. “We used to work with older adults who thought, ‘I’m 85, I can eat Hershey’s Kisses, and that’s my daily food.’ And we’ve really worked with them to understand you could eat that now, but you’re going to feel a certain way if you do. Whereas nutrient dense food like the Food Project’s will give you the energy to live your best life at 85 and beyond.”
FiftyForward operates a network of seven centers and offers a wealth of resources for adults 50+ in Middle Tennessee. You can learn more on their website, including volunteer opportunities in support of their work.
St. Luke’s Community House
St. Luke's Community House, a United Way Family Resource Center, has been meeting the needs of families in The Nations community for more than 100 years through programs and services for children, youth, adults, seniors, and families as a whole. In 2016 we formed a unique partnership with St. Luke's Community House in West Nashville, operating a portion of our meals programming from their commercial kitchen and serving 1,330 meals each week for the St. Luke's preschool and mobile meals programs.
St. Luke’s senior services support seniors aged 60 and over and adults with disabilities who live in specific West Nashville areas. Mobile meals are delivered to each participant’s door by trusted and trained St. Luke’s volunteers. And their Friend Senior Club offers weekly social and recreational opportunities for West Nashville seniors of all ages, such as bingo parties, crafts, group fitness classes and more.
Each weekday morning, TNFP volunteers help with plating St. Luke’s mobile meals lunches as part of morning meal prep. Most days, the lunch is shared with both the seniors receiving mobile meals and the preschoolers. At about 10:15 AM, St. Luke's mobile meals volunteers arrive to pack up the lunches and begin deliveries to seniors and adults with disabilities throughout the West Nashville community.
Running the kitchen on site means we hear more stories of the impact of the meals shared in partnership with St. Luke’s firsthand. As one St. Luke’s mobile meals participant shared, “Before I wasn't eating, I was forgetting to eat. Now I'm eating more regularly. It's helping my health. I had a stroke about 3 and a half years ago, and the healing process is taking a lot of my energy. This is a convenience for me, because it's brought right to my door. And a lot of the time it has brain food. I don't have to cook a meal when I'm about to conk out. You have no idea how much of a help it is. It's just beautiful.”
St. Luke’s Community House offers lots of ways you can get involved in their mission to create a community where children, families, and seniors from different backgrounds can easily access the resources needed to live fulfilling lives.