Cooperative for Human Services Inc. was awarded a five year demonstration grant from the MA Department of Developmental Disabilities (DDS) for the development of innovative day programing for individuals over the age of fifty-five. This is a population that often times remains at home because of complex medical conditions or significant day-to-day fluctuations in their health and vitality. One of the goals of the Elder Day Supports Program is to connect older adults with their communities and to increase their socialization opportunities. We strive to support our individuals to gain a sense of accomplishment and pride through volunteerism  and giving back, which increases self esteem and connections with others.

On The Rise Inc., a women’s daytime shelter located in Cambridge, MA, was the perfect fit for our first volunteer program in Elder Day Supports. The shelter provides women in need with healthy lunches through donations and contributions made by volunteers. Not only were our individuals able to create and contribute healthy meals, but all the fresh produce used in the meals was grown and harvested at CHS’s organic farm in North Reading, MA. The food was fresh, healthy, full of nutrients and organic and the harvesting experience provided a sense of purpose for our older adults.

Since June, five of the Elder Day Supports homes participated once a month in the preparation of these “farm-to-table” meals. The project starts by harvesting the produce from the garden in early morning. Individuals who have shown a keen interest in farming and gardening, enjoy participating in the selection, harvesting and washing of the vegetables. Not only do they appreciate the beautiful summer weather and farm landscape, but they learn about food sources, how vegetables are grown and ripen, and use their hands and senses in the harvesting process. Because the farm is equipped with ramps and accessible structures, those individuals in wheelchairs are also able to fully participate, enjoy the farm and help in the washing and prepping of the vegetables collected.

After vegetables are picked and thoroughly washed, participants gather to plan and prepare meals for On The Rise program participants. Meals have included seasonal salads and frittatas made with freshly-laid eggs from the chickens at the farm. Keeping up with seasonal produce, and providing the freshest ingredients possible, added to the pride of creating these meals. Once the food is ready, individuals accompany staff to the shelter to hand-deliver the meals to On the Rise Community Advocates.

Preparing these meals and knowing the recipients are in need, gives our individuals a sense of accomplishment. The common purpose of harvesting, cleaning, cooking and preparing the food really brings everyone together. Every session was enjoyable – for our individuals and also the CHS staff. Collaborating with participants from multiple CHS residential programs turned this activity into a volunteer experience as well as a social gathering of peers and like-minded volunteers. Laughter, singing, and conversation are always present.

The fact that one non-profit organization could come together to help another non-profit organization added to the uniqueness of this project. Sharing our resources in the best way possible, we were able to prepare healthy and nourishing meals for those in need. Our individuals were given the opportunity to give back, feel a sense of belonging and connect to their community with love, which adds to the list of reasons why we are so proud of the individuals we serve at Cooperative for Human Services Inc.