LOUISDALE: A pilot project is trying to use food and conversation to fight social isolation among senior citizens.
The “Around the Dinner Table” pilot project was a concept outlined by the MIND-BODY-SPIRIT (MBS) Project to allow socially-isolated seniors to become socially empowered through a connection with food, to improve their well-being.
Volunteer Debbie Samson, a member of the Fleur-de-Lis Seniors’ Club, took the concept and adapted it for an event on May 16 at St. Louis Parish Hall in Louisdale.
“Our group here saw it as a way of getting out some of the people that we don’t normally see at regular at events,” Samson said. “Because it’s by invitation basis and you go and you pick them up, and you make them a meal, we thought it would be a great opportunity for us to get those kind of people involved in some of the activities that we’ve been doing.”
With help from the St. Louis Parish Council, which donated the space, and a grant from the MBS to purchase the food, about 20 hosts each had a table, there were about 80 guests, Samson recalled, and each table had a talking circle. She said each host was diligent in identifying people in their group who don’t get out much or don’t enjoy a healthy level of socialization.
“There were so many people there that we hadn’t seen in such a long time,” Samson pointed out.
Samson said the conversations at each table centered around “days gone by.”
“It resonated with a grand majority of them so that kept the conversation just rolling,” she recalled.
The purpose of the Around the Dinner Table program is for seniors to grow their social circles and benefit from new social connections. It is a social activity that captures meaningful conversations around food. The program is based on a story sharing circle, which creates opportunities for rich conversations.
A dinner group meets regularly. Each dinner has a host, which is one person or a pair of people. The host also facilitates the conversation at the dinner table. The host invites three or four guests. Those dinner guests are encouraged to invite someone new to the regular social circle. The final size of the dinner party should end up being about eight to 10 people.
The conversation at this dinner revolves around a specific dish prepared by the host. The recipe can be special for any reason that is meaningful to the host, such as being a family recipe, an international dish, a special occasion meal, or other.
Once the meal begins, the host tells the story about his or her dish. After the story is finished other dinner guests are invited to comment or ask questions by taking turns.
Samson added the feedback she heard from participants was overwhelmingly positive and they plan to hold dinner tables twice a year in the future, in addition to the regular activities of the Louisdale-based seniors’ club.
“Social isolation is a big factor in the determinants of health, so if people get isolated, then they tend to get sicker,” Samson pointed out. “So if we can keep them out and active and socially connected, hopefully that will benefit their health.”