REAL Services is proud to serve delicious meals to older adults at its 30 nutrition sites throughout Michiana. Check out the menu and make your lunch reservation today.
One of the biggest health threats for aging adults is so common that it impacts almost half of all adults 65 or older, yet it’s something rarely discussed: isolation.
About one in three seniors 65+ live alone, and one in six seniors in America report feeling lonely regularly, according to Caring.com.
There are a lot of reasons for this — adult children become busy in their own lives, friends move or pass away, or sometimes health conditions cause older adults to stay home — but regardless of the reason, the risks are the same. Isolated adults are statistically more at risk for depression, heart disease, stroke, and premature death.
Luckily for adults 60 and older in Michiana, finding community can be as simple as making a reservation for lunch at one of the 30 REAL Services nutrition sites located in St. Joseph, Elkhart, LaPorte, Marshall and Kosciusko counties.
“There’s a congregant part of (the nutrition sites) where people come together and have a meal together,” said Crystal Hallwood, Lead Nutrition Coordinator for REAL Services. “Seniors are often in isolation. This is an opportunity to come and socialize and be part of something bigger than themselves.”
The nutrition sites are located in community centers, libraries, churches, and senior centers, and are open only during weekdays. When the sites open at 10 a.m., the staff starts plugging in coffee pots and preparing the meal. Guests start trickling in and begin socializing.
“Different sites have different personalities. Some play euchre, some play Dominos, some chit chat and have coffee. We provide volunteer opportunities, so I get a lot of people that used to be waitresses or cooks and they want to help wash dishes or pour coffee,” Hallwood said. “It gives people a sense of purpose and helps them feel connected to their community.”
Lunch is typically served between 11:30 a.m. and noon, and the entire group eats together. People can take as much time as they want to eat lunch, and some people might enjoy another cup of coffee after eating. The nutrition sites are typically wrapped up around 1 p.m., but everyone is welcome to stay and relax as they like.
“Some people might spend half an hour at a site, while others might be there for a couple of hours a day,” Hallwood said. “You’ll get as much out of it as you want.”
Hallwood visits each of the 30 sites throughout the month and enjoys meeting the upwards of 600 seniors who eat lunch there. Recently, she had lunch with an 82-year-old man who was recently widowed.
“He got teary-eyed telling me how 60 years of marriage seems long, but it was really only a minute, and he regrets that he feels he took some of that for granted,” Hallwood said. “He said our program has been a ‘lifesaver.’ His beloved wife did all the cooking and shopping. ‘I was spoiled,’ he said. He was just so grateful. That’s another fantastic reason we do what we do.”
Hallwood calls the nutrition sites a “gateway program” into REAL Services, because many people don’t realize all the programs and services REAL Services offers. There are pamphlets available for the programs and other services seniors qualify for, including vouchers for the South Bend Farmer’s Market.
There’s also a safety-net aspect to the nutrition sites. The site staff gets to know the people who attend, and they notice when a person doesn’t come if they made a reservation.
Someone from the staff will call to check on them and make sure they’re OK. Maybe the heat is too much in the summertime, or they are feeling under the weather. Maybe it’s something as simple as the grandkids made a surprise visit.
“I’ve had many people over the years be very grateful that we made that phone call,” Hallwood said. “The people that you’re doing with are looking forward to talking to you.”
The menu changes daily, but it’s announced about two weeks before the beginning of every month. The meals vary and REAL Services aims to provide about a third of a person’s daily calorie needs.
The nutrition sites only make as many meals as are ordered, so REAL Services requests reservations be made at least one business day in advance by 11 a.m. The sites are funded by donations. REAL Services suggests donations of $4.25 for each meal, but will gratefully accept any donation.
The nutrition sites can’t cater to specific diets, but guests are welcome to bring their own food and just come to be with friends and socialize.
“(The nutrition sites are) a fantastic way to stay on top of your health and socialize,” Hallwood said. “Food is really important, but so too is looking someone in the eye and saying ‘Hi, thanks for coming today, great, how’s the chicken?'”