Lunch Out program brings seniors together for a healthy day out

Meals on Wheels helps older people avoid isolation while improving their nutrition

Naomi Hohnberg, left, Mary Silver and Mary Sevcik play along while Karen Stovell and Susan Velkers entertain people during the Meals on Wheels Lunch Out program at the Grantham Optimist Club. – Julie Jocsak , Torstar

It’s just one or two meals a month — but they make such a difference, says Shona McClure.

The Lunch Out program, operated by Meals on Wheels for St. Catharines and Thorold, gets seniors out for a meal together twice a month.

But what sounds like a simple idea is actually a way to draw out older people who might otherwise feel isolated in their homes.

And people who are isolated often neglect good nutrition, which impacts their overall health and depletes their energy levels.

“We have seen over the years what the benefits of eating together, congregate dining, can do,” says McClure, program co-ordinator with the Meals office on Bunting Road.

It’s just part of the overall Meals on Wheels service that delivers hot meals to seniors five days a week and can also provide weekly frozen meals they can store for the weekend.

The difference with Lunch Out, in its 24th year, is that it gets clients out of the house or apartment for a few hours for a meal followed by entertainment or activities.

The cost is $12 per date and anyone 55 or older can register to join. Volunteers can provide free transportation if it’s needed.

There are two Lunch Out dates per month, one at Grantham Lions Club and the other at Grantham Optimist Club.

“It promotes socialization,” says McClure.

“A lot of our clients are living alone, so they’re at nutritional risk due to different life factors. If they’re lonely, if they’re isolated, they can move on to loss of appetite. And that can lead to depression.”

She adds: “We’ve had many seniors tell us throughout the years that they have a sense of belonging at our Lunch Outs … and it’s always a lovely afternoon for them, just to be out of their home and engaged.”

The engagement idea fits with the larger goal of Meals on Wheels, which is more than just a delivery service for seniors.

The volunteers who bring the meals to the seniors at their homes (the cost is $6 a meal) are encouraged to draw them out and observe how the client or clients are doing.

If they aren’t doing well, the Meals on Wheels office can alert the client’s family.

“It’s well-being, and gives a lot of peace of mind for their family members,” says McClure. “There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes.”

She says in the past, “We’ve had volunteers enter a home and the door will be open and they’ll find the client is not home. Or they have found them in distress on the floor when they have fallen … they serve as that well-being check.”

The St. Catharines and Thorold operation delivers about 45,000 meals a year. The Lunch Out get-togethers attract 30 to 40 seniors each time.

With Niagara’s growing seniors population McClure says she hopes more clients will sign on for assistance.

The average client is 85 or older, “and the need to cook for themselves can be daunting,” she says.

“So our services have such a positive impact on their nutritional health and social interaction … it’s a great way to connect with their peers, and we’ve seen real relationships form. It’s a nice thing to witness.”

To learn more about volunteering or becoming a client of Meals on Wheels, phone the St. Catharines and Thorold office at 905-682-0333 or check its Facebook page or Twitter (mowCoordinator).

Also, several other Meals on Wheels sites across Niagara offer congregate dining programs similar to Lunch Out.

For more information on those, phone 1-877-665-6325 or visit

@gordhoward | 905-225-1626

Originally posted here.