Across Canada, seniors are a fast-growing population who will make up a quarter of Canadians by 2036. Research shows that seniors are at greater risk of becoming lonely and socially isolated — they have a harder time accessing social spaces due to declining income, lack of mobility, living alone, and the moving away or loss of friends and family. According to Statistics Canada’s Canadian Community Health Survey, one-fifth of adults aged 65 and older feel a lack of companionship, left out, or isolated from others — and that impacts their health and well-being in big ways.
Our partner Community Food Centres and Good Food Organizations are creatively using food to tackle this growing trend of social isolation among seniors. By offering fresh fruits and vegetables, and inviting spaces to connect with others, here's how three of our partners are using the power of food to build up seniors’ sense of belonging, and grow their physical and mental health.
Reaching for the market basket on cold Regina nights
For Regina Education and Action on Child Hunger (REACH) in Saskatchewan, seniors face a typically Canadian challenge with the harsh winters and icy sidewalks, which keep them housebound. During one of those long winters in 2000, staff at tenant associations in Regina’s low-income seniors residences noticed that a number of seniors weren’t eating properly. REACH stepped in and launched two seniors’ programs to get good food to the plates of these vulnerable citizens: a frozen meal delivery and mobile fresh food market. Together, the programs allow seniors to stay independently in their homes as long as possible while getting some much-appreciated friendly contact. REACH’s mobile store sells affordable fresh fruit and vegetables at five low-income senior housing towers each week, with the community lingering over healthy food, neighbours meeting neighbours, and filling the air with sounds of excitement over vibrant colours and vine ripened tomatoes.
Many seniors in Regina’s low-income high rises don’t have a lot of family support. According to Executive Director Dana Folkerson, “young people tend to move away for better job opportunities so elderly people don’t have families close by.” REACH staff who deliver meals for their frozen meal program often go above and beyond, chatting, taking out garbage, even changing people’s light bulbs. Seniors and their families feel safer that a friendly face is checking in once a week, along with delivering a healthy meal.
Choose your own adventure in Calgary
46% of seniors in Calgary's Hillhurst Sunnyside neighbourhood live alone, so aging in place without becoming isolated are challenges that Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association is seeing seniors face. Hillhurst Sunnyside is about to launch an exciting program called Community Connections to address this. Seniors will be offered a buffet of programs, from casual drop-in to supportive mentorship. Drop-in programs include engaging the body and mind through chair yoga and knitting, while others focus on gathering seniors together to create a supportive community. Sharing interests and having fun together will allow Hillhurst’s programming to weave new experiences into the fabric of otherwise isolated seniors’ lives.
When seniors want to create a deeper connection, Hillhurst will be offering a Community Connectors buddy program. Community connectors are trained to make meaningful and helpful interactions with the seniors they’re paired with – together they tend gardens, help with grocery shopping, and have fun and invigorating visits over a coffee. According to Debbie Olson, Seniors Outreach Coordinator, community members have reported how important it is to have a space to gather, converse and share activities together. Whether it’s based on a craft or a coffee, Hillhurst is building strong, supportive relationships so seniors can choose their own adventure.
Growing and tending to new friendships at The Local
At the The Local Community Food Centre in Stratford, ON, a superpowered program of gardening seniors called the Green Team welcomes new gardeners, master gardeners, and everyone in-between. The atmosphere is welcoming and collaborative — seniors feel comfortable sharing their gardening knowledge with the group and learning new strategies from others. And as a bonus, they grow the freshest, most delicious local produce in town!
The program is responding to the needs of those seniors who used to have their own large gardens but are no longer able to take care of such a large space. At The Local, tending a garden collectively is a no-pressure approach to gardening, which participants really appreciate. The gardening program coincides with The Local’s weekly senior’s lunch, blood pressure clinic and gentle exercise session. This gives seniors a wrap-around access to friendship, better food, and better health.
We at CFCC are proud to be growing this movement and supporting partner organizations that get seniors the kind of support they need to eat healthy, stay healthy, and create a stronger community.
Learn more about REACH, Hillhurst Sunnyside Community Association, and The Local Community Food Centre.
Reach CFCC's backgrounder on Social Isolation and Community Connection