Posted by Kelley Annese
This past year I have been working closely with older adults living in two adjacent affordable housing buildings in Salem, coordinating a variety of programs including arts and crafts, intergenerational projects, yoga and stress management, nutrition classes, and mental health lectures. Through these programs, our Aging Well at Home program in collaboration with North Shore Elder Services (NSES) and the Salem Housing Authority, hopes to build a sense of community and increase awareness of healthy aging. I have noticed that, regardless of how well marketed and executed, these programs attract the same group of social and motivated residents. Those in the housing buildings who do not participate may not like groups, may not be interested in what is being offered, or may choose to stay socially isolated, something we know can be a health risk. So last summer, I set out to encourage those who do not come to the structured programming to come out, even for five minutes, and hopefully make a connection.
With help from the Boston Area Gleaners, based in Waltham, we piloted the Free Farmers Market in August for residents of these two housing buildings in Salem. Boston Area Gleaners distributes high quality produce to food pantries and meal programs by working closely with local farmers and providing volunteer labor to harvest what would otherwise be plowed under. I was excited to discover that JF&CS already had a relationship with this organization through JF&CS Family Table. Matt Crawford, Boston Area Gleaners distribution manager, and I worked together to coordinate a bi-weekly distribution of produce that I picked up from the Gleaners on Tuesday mornings to give to residents in Salem in the afternoon. I also worked with Jennifer Heinen of JF&CS Hunger and Nutrition to include a healthy and easy recipe that featured that delivery’s produce as the main ingredient. One of the favorites of the season was a corn, zucchini, and tomato salad.
This new program had been a great success. After a few months, I connected with so many more residents than I had previously known. Some residents stopped by for a few minutes to pick up produce and a recipe; others hung around for the full two hours, talking with one another about how they planned to cook the produce or simply had a friendly conversation before going back to their apartments.
The harvest season has drawn to a close but I look forward to refining and expanding the program this summer to continue developing these wonderful connections.
Kelley Annese is the Program Coordinator for JF&CS Aging Well at Home in Salem, MA, a suite of services that support the interdependence and well-being of older adults living in community with a focus on naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs) where there are high concentrations of older adults. She has immersed herself in the Salem community, getting to know all that Salem has to offer adults as they grow older. She has spent time interviewing older adults and organizations, offering various programs to educate and motivate residents, and assisting in the creation of the age-friendly Salem action plan for AARP. Kelley has a background in marketing and is a certified yoga and meditation teacher with many years working with all ages in hospitals, senior centers, and schools.