Serving up a Friendly Meal

Jaffrey: HCS provides monthly social hour, health services for area seniors

There is still half an hour before lunch is served. Already, the Jaffrey VFW Hall is filled with people, chatting over coffee, playing cards, and some making their way over to a room off of the entry hall to sit down with a registered nurse and have their blood pressure monitored, or to consult with the two dental hygienists offering free dental screenings to check on their teeth or dentures.

“It’s nice to come to these meals,” says Maria Clark of Peterborough, as she waits for her lunch to be served on a recent Thursday afternoon. “It nice to just see your friends and come early to visit.”

“Everyone always looks forward to it,” agrees Ray Eaves of Hancock.

“And it’s very cost effective,” adds Al Boudreau of Rindge with a grin.

“I think the Friendly Meals offers a great opportunity for fellowship and reconnection. It’s a way to bring seniors from, not only Jaffrey, but the other surrounding towns as well, together,” says Susan Ashworth, director of community relations for Home, Healthcare, Hospice and Community Services of Keene, which provides local visiting nurse and hospice serving southwestern New Hampshire. “They often come in groups, or make plans to do something else after the dinner. I think all those social opportunities are important. It creates or strengthens a network for people to rely on, which is particularly important in rural areas.”

Once a month on every third Thursday, Home, Healthcare, Hospice and Community Services sponsors a “Friendly Meal” for seniors. Not only does it serve as a regular event to help those over the age of 60 to get out of the house and have the opportunity to socialize with the hundreds of other seniors that attend, it also provides a regularly scheduled opportunity for them to have access to a health professional of whom they can ask questions and have their general health monitored. For many of that age, some of whom cannot afford or are otherwise reluctant to see a doctor, it can be a helpful resource and a critical watchful eye, said Ashworth.

Generally, there are between 150 to 175 seniors from area towns at the lunch, said Ashworth, with the number topping out at 250 on the busiest days. Every month, there Nurse Is In clinic held at the same time, but periodically Home, Healthcare, Hopice and Community Services also offers information stations about other area resources seniors can draw on. Other times, there are additional professionals on site, such as the dental hygienists from the N.H. Senior Oral Health Survey. The point of these professionals is not to replace a regular doctor or dentist, noted Ashworth, but to provide a resource, answer questions, and identify issues that might need further care.

In the past, other organizations, including the Bond Wellness Center, ENH Power, the Red Cross, and Jaffrey’s Good Shepherd Nursing Home, have all had representatives attend the dinners to speak with the seniors that attend.

“Most of the time,” says Ashworth, “seniors are going along, living, and have not had need for or interaction with other social services. And it can be puzzling, because there’s a lot out there to sort through. We’re trying to give people more knowledge about all of the opportunities they have to choose from. And it gives community organizations a chance to get their message out to a large number of seniors.”

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of forging a connection and offering residents a contact point with area social services, said Ashworth. Other times, it’s just helpful information, such as when the representatives from the Bond Wellness Center in Peterborough talked to those interested about sodium intake and healthy diets, or the Red Cross talked about disaster planning. Other times, it’s more general information, such as where local caregiver support groups are or what assisted living entails.

“The whole goal is to have people stay independent in their own home, and be active and involved members of the community,” says Ashworth.

This month’s dinner is on March 20 at the VFW Hall in Jaffrey. Seniors can begin arriving at the hall at 10:30 a.m. for coffee and conversation. Community lunch is served at noon. Reservations are necessary and can be made by calling Home Healthcare, Hospice and Community Services at 352-2253 by noon a day in advance. Jaffrey Friendly Meals are held every third Thursday at the VFW Hall. The hall is accessible to those with wheelchairs or walkers. A donation of $2 is suggested for participation in the meal.

Donations to Home, Healthcare, Hospice and Community Services can be sent to 312 Marlborough St. in Keene.

Donations made in March and April will be matched by the Feinstein Challenge, a national campaign that matches fundraising efforts for non-profit hunger fighting agencies, and will go to support Friendly Meals and the Jaffrey Meals on Wheels program.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ex. 244, or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaari.

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