When Kimberley Young hit a milestone birthday, she decided to become involved in the seniors community in Powell River.
“I joined the seniors centre as a lark when I turned 50,” she said. “At 51, I realized I want this facility to be here when I’m a ‘senior, senior’ so I joined the board.”
Today, she is director-at-large of Cranberry Seniors Centre, part of the Powell River Senior Citizens Association. Founded in the community in 1953, it became a chartered branch in 1958 and today has more than 230 members.
“It is a very active centre and we make sure that we do mind, body and spirit activities here,” added Young.
These include games, lawn bowling, crafting groups, music, fitness, social get-togethers and meals. In recent years this has come to include frozen dinners, available to all seniors in the district at affordable prices. The association’s past president Gene Jamieson currently cooks the meals in the centre’s commercial kitchen.
“We discovered in 2017 that there was no more Meals on Wheels here because of lack of volunteers and I offered to start a program of frozen dinners for seniors in need. It snowballed from there,” she said.
The idea first came to her after being the recipient of a local meal program.
“My daughter’s co-workers had given me credit at The Convenient Chef because I was recuperating from surgery, and it was wonderful,” she added.
The Convenient Chef, a local catering company run by Marika Varro, also began offering an affordable seniors meal service in response to need within the community.
“We’ve been doing this over two years,” said Varro. “There is a desperate need for this service.”
Varro said she provides the program as a way to help her community. She subsidizes the cost of the meal service through her catering work.
“That’s my contribution to Powell River,” she added. “If we want our seniors to stay at home, and we do because we don’t have facilities for them to go into, then we have to feed them because food is medicine.”
Both local meal services have found the demand within the community is large.
“In January of 2018 we were maybe doing 30 dinners a month and now we’re doing up to 400,” said Jamieson.
While neither service is looking for more clients, no one is turned away.
The need for nourishing meals are many, according to Jamieson, ranging from illness, financial need and simply no desire to cook.
“When I started it I talked to a lot of seniors who were eating tea and toast only whenever they felt hungry,” she said. “There were seniors who ate cereal three times a day and some who just didn’t know how to cook because their partner had always done the cooking and their partner is no longer with them.”
The level of financial need among seniors was eye-opening, she added.
“In this district, believe it or not we have a big majority of seniors living below the poverty level, which was kind of a surprise to me when we went into it,” said Jamieson. “We’ve had a lot of seniors retiring here because it’s less expensive than anywhere else in the Lower Mainland and a lot of them do need help.”
In addition to healthy meals, the senior population is often lonely, she said, especially newcomers. Jamieson suggested something like a volunteer visiting committee that stops by people’s homes to socialize and check on their well-being would be a great addition to the community.
“In some countries everyone over 80 gets a visit once a week from somebody just to make sure they’re okay,” she said. “We have a good community. We have a lot happening for seniors. We need to be better neighbours.”