The newest program called BEST, which is an acronym for Bringing Every Senior Together, started hosting lunches and fellowship time at the Hartford United Methodist Church, most every Monday and Thursday starting at 11 a.m. The new program wants to welcome all the surrounding area seniors to participate as there is no geographical restriction.
Though the program is partially funded through a grant received by the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, the cost to participate in the meal is by donation only. However, Pastor Doug Tipken assures that no senior will be turned away for the inability to pay.
The importance of food programs like BEST
With food insecurity and malnutrition associated with a variety of negative health outcomes, including more frequent and longer hospitalizations, the meal programs in Hartford play an important role in helping older adults remain healthy and independent.
As many as half of older Americans are malnourished or at risk of being malnourished, and nearly five million Americans lack consistent access to enough food for a healthy life. This statistic shows that one out of every six seniors has food insecurities.
While nutrition is the most obvious benefit of the meals programs, the older adults at the newly formed BEST program housed at Hartford United Methodist Church would be the first to tell they are getting much more than hot lunch.
Meal programs are a source of belonging
“When I’m here, I talk with everybody,” said Carolyn Martin. “I get to see friends from the city and township, and meet new people from neighboring communities.”
She is not the only one; 80% of elder Americans, who come to these lunches, said they had more friends after joining the program.
“A big problem that we see is that older folks often become socially isolated from each other,” Pastor Tipken said right before he started to wash the dishes after the meal concluded. The Pastor stated that this program is used as an outreach ministry for the church. He said that the church is not only interested in people’s spiritual well-being, but also their emotional and physical well-being and that is how BEST tries to meet the need the two days a week when there wasn’t something already for seniors to do.
The combination of nutrition, socialization, and connection to other resources and activities may help explain why participating in a meal program leads to better health and a greater likelihood of current seniors staying in the community.
By the numbers
The 2017 evaluation of these types of food programs found that older adults participating in meal programs are less likely to be admitted to a hospital or nursing home.
The gap was particularly stark among lower-income older adults. For example, 4.5% of lower-income older adults participating in one or more meal programs had been admitted to a hospital after an ER visit in the nine months before they were interviewed, compared to nearly 16% of those not participating in any type of program.
“[Seniors] want to be able to be in their homes but they also want the opportunity to be able to socialize, to meet other people, to do these activities, and also to have a meal,” Hartford Commissioner Jane Danger says.
Danger and her husband, Don, help run the program. Don is the man behind the spatula if you will. He took his love for cooking and uses it by serving the senior citizens in the community.
“It’s a great thing, and it does help with meeting the needs of our aging community members,” said Commissioner Danger. She continued, “I am proud to be a part of something that is already having a positive impact.”