“I’d like to pray for my grandbaby who has been sick with a cold this week.”
It is 9 AM on a Saturday and the hot North Carolina sun is already baking the parking lot outside Renaissance Road Church in Jamestown. But inside the renovated warehouse-turned-church, the air conditioning is on and a dozen senior citizens are standing in a circle, some joining hands, some leaning on canes for support, praying.
Pastor Paula Bost is tall and lean and has a gentle laugh. The way she leads the prayer circle is comfortable and informal–people laugh and nod and interject with comments and jokes as they go around asking for each other's kind thoughts for whatever is on their mind.
Food and Fellowship
Food has always been a way to gather people together, and here at Renaissance Road that is exactly its purpose.
The center table this morning is covered with a classic Southern breakfast spread: hashbrowns and casseroles and fresh fruit. Once a month Renaissance Road Church volunteers cook up this meal especially for the senior citizens who visit their church’s community food pantry. Paula is using the meal as a way to carve out a special space for these senior citizens, a time and place where they can gather together and offer each other support and care in a setting where they can feel uplifted and understood.
It is clear it is working. Gathered in clusters around small tables eating their breakfasts, the guests are laughing and teasing each other. One woman jokes to another that she likes her hat and that she is going to swipe it off her head. “Wouldn’t we be a sight chasing each other around over it?” she laughs, tapping her cane on the other woman’s walker.
Food and Health
“I like it, it’s sweet.”
“Strawberries, blueberries. You could put just about anything in there and just blend it up.” Paula is demonstrating mixing fresh fruit smoothies to the group with a small, single-serving blender and passing out samples in small cups. A few of the seniors are hesitant to try it, but others gulp their samples down and ask for more.
“For anyone who’s diabetic, this would be a good way to get a little sugar… maybe you could use Splenda?” suggests one woman. “I would make these.”
“Then close your eyes!” says Paula, smiling widely. The seniors close their eyes, some covering their faces with their hands for full effect. Quickly, Paula and the volunteers place boxes on the table in front of each guest. “Now…. Open!”
Exclamations of excitement erupt as each senior citizen finds a brand new personal smoothie maker in front of them to take home.
“Yeah, this is good,” agrees one gentleman, smiling and finally tasting his smoothie. “I mean for being so healthy.”
Feeding Senior Health
According to the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (NFESH), approximately 10.2 million adults over the age of 60 are facing the threat of hunger, a 65% increase since 2007.
These breakfasts, and a renewed focus on fresh foods at Renaissance Road Church, are a part of a larger Second Harvest Food Bank initiative called Feeding Senior Health, funded by the High Point Community Foundation. “We are trying new strategies, looking deeply at the types of food that we distribute, and looking at creative collaborations to really help the aging population that is reliant on our partner network,” says Peggy Robinson of Second Harvest.
Seniors have a harder time than the general population protecting themselves against hunger. For example, one study found that food-insecure seniors sometimes had enough money to purchase food but did not have the resources to access or prepare food due to lack of transportation, functional limitations or health problems. Gatherings such as this one at Renaissance Road Church provide food bankers and pantry volunteers a setting in which they can speak with seniors and learn more about the barriers to food access that they are facing.
“Not only are they living off very low incomes and having trouble affording healthy food, we see a lot of the older people being very isolated,” says Paula. “Transportation seems to be a big issue– limiting their ability to get here to our pantry, or even to a grocery store.”
“And then beyond that, it’s the healthy food. It’s so expensive,” she adds.
“A lot of us are supposed eat fruits and vegetables,” says one gentleman. “I know my doctor says I am supposed to. It’s because of my heart medicine. But those things aren’t easy to get.”
Before the seniors leave for the day, volunteers help them select foods to take home. They have set up tables in the church foyer, one loaded with carefully stacked canned goods–green beans, corn, tuna and chicken–and the other with fresh, seasonal vegetables. “We bought those with the grant money from the Piedmont Triad Farmers’ Market,” a volunteer tells the gentleman as he selects some peaches for his bag. “They are local and fresh.”
Peaches, canned tuna, tomatoes, corn, and a new smoothie maker, the gentleman slowly makes his way to his car. “Until next time,” he calls out as he gets in.
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