IOWA CITY — New sounds have found their way into the halls of the Iowa City Senior Center: feet running through a room, children laughing loudly.
It’s the result, at least in part, of a new intergenerational lunch program bringing together people of all ages.
“(Having children at the Senior Center) lifts the energy in the building to another level,” said LaTasha DeLoach, Senior Center coordinator.
Children 18 and younger have been able to receive free lunches at the Senior Center at 28 S. Linn St. since June 10. They join Senior Center members from noon to 12:30 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Adults can buy lunch for $4.
The program runs through Aug. 23. It is offered through a partnership between the Senior Center and the Cedar Rapids-based nonprofit Horizons: A Family Service Alliance, at 819 Fifth St. SE.
Sofia Mehaffey, Horizons community health and nutrition director, said Horizons has been serving seniors-only meals at the Senior Center for years, but this is the first time students have been offered hot lunches there.
DeLoach said Senior Center members might not have regular interaction with children throughout their day, and a youthful presence has been a positive experience that brings a community feel to the center.
Lunches provide both targeted age groups the option of a hot meal, if they need one, DeLoach said. She has spent time working with marginalized children who face various issues, including hunger. After becoming the Senior Center coordinator, she saw older adults who also face food insecurity. That means they don’t have steady access to affordable and nutritious meals.
An increased risk of health issues such as heart disease is more common among seniors who are food-insecure, Mehaffey said. She said seniors also face issues such as cost-of-living increases, rising medicine prices and volatility in funding for senior-focused programs.
Intergenerational lunches also can reduce some of the isolation seniors might face, Mehaffey said. She noted that isolation can be as detrimental to a person’s health as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
“We’re social animals,” she said. “We need interaction with others.”
The number of children coming to eat has increased each week, DeLoach said. About 14 kids came in for lunch each day last week. Child attendance is expected to continue growing in the summer months, she said.
A dietitian evaluates the meals for seniors in the new lunch program, Mehaffey said, and the children’s meals must meet the same nutritional standards as lunches served in schools. The option for parents to eat for a reduced price also was established so they don’t have to stand around and watch their children eat, she said.
The menu for each week is on the center’s Facebook page, and DeLoach said there’s a variety of food so everyone can find a meal they might enjoy.
“Just because you’re food-insecure doesn’t mean you don’t know what you like,” she said.
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