Dora likes to move it.
“People complain I’m hard to reach. I’m never at home,” the 74-year-old laughs. “But I like to be out. I like to keep busy.”
So the long-time Montrealer, who immigrated from Guyana nearly 40 years ago, spends her days volunteering at local nursing homes, taking classes at the nearby Black community centre and planning events and meals for others in her subsidized seniors’ residence in the west-end neighbourhood of NDG.
As president of the community room in her building, Dora coordinates the activities that take place there, including welcoming young people and staff from The Depot Community Food Centre for regular intergenerational meals. Seniors and their teenage counterparts chop and prep the food in the spacious community space (as well as in five similar buildings around NDG), then share the meal.
It’s a program that’s been running since 2006 to address low income seniors’ limited access to fresh fruit and veggies, as well as their isolation and lack of opportunities to connect with younger people. Last year, they served more than 650 meals to participants.
“There are lots of people who live alone here, and you have to coax them out,” Dora says. “We tell them it’s nice to meet people, to talk and eat with others. Eventually, they come around. Some stay away because they don’t understand English. But lots of the young people speak French and the seniors really like that. Other in the building only speak Spanish or Russian but they come anyway—they try.”
Attendance tends to be most robust during the long, cold Montreal winters, but over the last five years, Dora and many of the other seniors in the building have come to eagerly anticipate The Depot visitors. They enjoy the food—even if they’re not all accustomed to the largely vegetarian offerings—but they mostly love the experience.
“Sitting down for a meal together encourages togetherness,” Dora says. “We talk, we eat. Food is the universal language.”
True to form, Dora is currently working on a plan for a big Canada Day meal and celebration in her building. There’ll be music and a sit-down dinner with fish and chicken options. The mayor of NDG even promised to make an appearance.
“When some people get older, they don’t go anywhere. But I trained as a caregiver when I first came to Canada, worked for many years at the Jewish General Hospital and privately, and I say to the seniors in my building, you don’t sit down and wait for death.” Dora laughs again.
“When you sit down, it just gets harder to get back up.”