Original Article by Marsha Siegal for PCA’s Milestones 7.14.2017


Cooking Soup for Seniors 

It’s a Thursday morning, and water is sim­mering in two big stainless steel pots on the stove at Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral. Volunteers from the church and community chop cauliflower, carrots, scallions, onions, garlic and celery. Pungent scents of turmeric, nutmeg and cumin suffuse the small room. This communal soup-making venture is one of a series of intergenerational cooking ses­sions sponsored by Food & Company, a project of Ralston Center’s Age-Friendly West Philadelphia Initiative.

The morning’s effort will yield 120 serv­ings of creamy cauliflower soup, some of which will be offered that afternoon when the church, located at 23 South 38th St., hosts a meal for people in need. The older cooks and those enjoying the meal that day will also take containers home. The rest of the soup will be distributed in freezer-ready containers to other West Philadelphia seniors who could benefit from the nourishing food.

A nonprofit providing health and social services to older West Philadelphians, Ralston Center launched its Age-Friendly initiative in 2016 to create a more livable community for older adults and maximize their indepen­dence, well-being and social engagement. For Food & Company, the center partners with host sites including houses of worship and senior community centers for vegetarian soup-making. A member of the Ralston Cen­ter team delivers ingredients and cookware to each site and leads the process. Volunteers can take soup for homebound West Philadel­phia friends and neighbors, and the center partners with community organizations to distribute any remaining soup to seniors in need, says Greta McKnight, center volunteer coordinator and social worker.

The center purchases in-season vegetables, herbs and other ingredients for the soup from local farms and grocery stores. Recipes are chosen based on available fresh produce and herbs.

Food & Company resulted from listen­ing sessions the center conducted prior to launching its Age-Friendly initiative. Lack of access to healthy food emerged as an impor­tant issue, McKnight notes. “Getting to a gro­cery store was not convenient for many peo­ple. It was especially hard for senior residents without a car,” she says. “Soup can be a meal in itself and is very nourishing. We thought a project that would involve cooking healthy soups would enable volunteers to be hands-on and engaged. We also did not want seniors to feel they were getting a hand-out when they received this soup. We encourage them to vol­unteer as cooks if they are able to do so in or­der to have a part in creating this food.”

Since the project was launched a year ago, it has engaged more than 190 volunteers of all ages and provided soup to 2,200 older West Philadelphians, says Jean Papaj, the center’s director of communications and marketing.

Sandra Fair is a volunteer cook and soup recipient. She is part of a core group involved in the monthly cooking project at West Phila­delphia Senior Community Center at 41st and Poplar streets and also volunteers for the monthly soup-making sessions at Phila­delphia Episcopal Cathedral. “I like to cook different things, and I especially love making soup,” she says. Prior to becoming a volun­teer with Food & Company, Fair’s soup rep­ertoire was quite limited. Through the pro­gram, she has learned to make more varieties, like chickpea and kale, butternut squash and cream of carrot with ginger, and expanded her appreciation of vegetables and herbs. She has adapted the recipes to cook the soups on her own at home. She has also made new friends through making soup. McKnight isn’t surprised. “The cooking program brings peo­ple from the community together,” she says. “They socialize and feel good about what they are doing.”

Original Article by Marsha Siegal for PCA’s Milestones 7.14.2017



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