Senior women who live alone can look forward to monthly luncheons to connect with other women.
What began as a pilot program, the BC CRN-funded luncheons were launched last October to a small, yet appreciative group of senior women who hail from Osoyoos and nearby Oliver.
The idea came from Gloria Williamson, a now-retired teacher for grades 6 to 12 (“I taught home economics and fashion.”) and a volunteer driver with the local Better At Home program. The Better At Home program runs out of the Desert Sun Counselling and Resource Centre. Desert Sun is also the agency that hosts the South Okanagan Community Response Network (CRN).
“My sister-in-law, who lives in Sherwood Park, started a group to support widows who were isolated,” says Gloria. “Reducing isolation reduces the risk of abuse and self-neglect. The pandemic amplified people’s isolation and the need to get out. I wondered if there was anything we could do through Better At Home.”
The concept of a ladies-only lunch parallels men’s shed-type programs, creating opportunities for people who may not be comfortable in mixed group settings.
“Rather than just focus on widows, I thought we might want to open it up to any woman who found themselves living on their own due to whatever circumstances – by choice, as a result of divorce, death of a spouse. If she was living solo, she would qualify,” explains Gloria.
“Gloria got in touch with me back in the summer and we started planning in September,” says Better At Home and CRN Coordinator Brittany Van Burg. “The objective of these luncheons fit really well with the CRN part of my portfolio. Once we had a plan in place, I let her run with it.”
The biggest challenge was figuring out how to get the word out while keeping the first few events small enough to manage safely in a pandemic.
“Brittany and I looked at the Better At Home lists to see who we could approach,” says Gloria.
The inaugural event in October brought together eight women for a healthy lunch of sandwiches, fresh-cut vegetables and fruit, and sweet treats. Those without transportation were picked up and then driven home. The agenda for the two hours also included icebreaker activities and plenty of time to chat about life. Some guests already knew each other. Some had not seen others in quite some time. All guests were able to take the leftovers home. “The leftovers helped ensure that everyone had some good food at home,” Gloria explains.
The next luncheon, which took place earlier in November, saw nearly all the same ladies participating. More comfortable this time, participants expressed wanting to expand the group further to make new friends.
“I’m learning so much from observing these women,” Gloria says. “I’m learning about their eating habits, seniors’ nutrition, how they like to socialize, and what they have in common with each other. In a future lunch, we’ll look at growing program attendance by asking participants to bring a friend.”
Early testimonials were positive.
Muriel Chrystal, one of the luncheon guests, says: “I thought it was a really nice idea to bring people together. I attended the last two lunches and I had a good time…everyone else seemed to as well. (I also won the draw for the flowers decorating the table!) Talking to the women around the table, I like every one of them, and we are all on the same page with wanting to help one another.”
The luncheon planned for December will include a draw and a gift exchange as a way to celebrate the upcoming winter holiday.
The CRN is also looking at taking lunch on the road to tie in trips to local sights. “I think this approach will help the ladies see how their community is growing and changing,” adds Gloria. “When the group gets large enough, I think the women will self-organize into smaller groups based on their interests – gardening, textiles, art, wine, knitting…whatever it is they like to do and connect on.”
When we asked Gloria about what she likes best about being involved in a program like this: “Solo senior women are a nice group to coordinate for because you are doing it for them. Most women are often primary caregivers and caretakers, and now, we have the chance to take care of them…to have them sit back and have someone else pamper and provide for them.”
“The South Okanagan CRN comes up with interesting projects to respond to the unique needs of the community,” says Micki Materi, Regional Mentor – Okanagan. “This project is just another example of the team’s ability to match people’s ideas and passions to projects that proactively and sensitively reduce the risk of abuse and isolation by engaging vulnerable adults in safe and fun ways, especially during the pandemic. When BC CRN and our local CRNs across the province work together, the impact can be felt by everyone.”
For more information about the luncheon program, or to get involved with South Okanagan CRN programs and activities, contact Brittany at email@example.com.
(Header Photo: B. Van Burg, Better At Home)