Joint Dining for the Seniors
Loneliness could kill! The deprivation of social contact not only causes depression, but also increases the risk of physical injuries of the elderly. Therefore the WHO includes “social connectivity” as one of the three pillars in its criterion of “healthy aging.” We had also found social participation an effective prescription to promote elderly welfare in our city.
The “Joint Dining for the Seniors”(老人共餐) program is aimed to provide a platform for food-sharing, friend-making and mutual caring. It connects the elderly people who lives nearby to form a network of social support, and prevent physical and mental problems caused by loneliness.
The seniors are preparing their own food for joint dining
New Taipei is the first city in Taiwan to have initiated “Joint Dining for the Seniors” program. We encouraged a wide of organizations (subsidiary departments of city government, district offices, community organizations, religious groups, NPOs and even restaurants) to organize joint dining in various forms and venues. We also encouraged the elderly citizens to join so that they may meet their neighbors, participate in some post-meal activities, and get mentally supported.
It did not cost any government fund. We just initiated, and then the local communities took over. The entire program is supported by private donations and volunteer workers. The role of the city government is an initiator and promoter.
In the past few years, regular dining gathering were initiated at 903 sites citywide. In 2017, the head counts of all the joint-dining events aggregated to a total of over 1.6 million. In the first nine month of 2018, the statistics has reached 1.4 million already.
Joint Dining for the Seniors
This project does not simply gather the elderly for meals, but offer them an opportunity to interact with others. These unofficial, flexible, and spontaneous networks improve the seniors’ physical and social health, which slow down the pace of fragility.
Furthermore, the seniors’ routine participation for joint dining fosters a local safety-net based on the community. Many alone-living seniors suffer from being unseen or unnoticed while an emergency happens to them, such as stroke, falling down, or faint. Now these situations can at least draw some attention when the seniors are absent from the meal fellowship.
Last but not least, we noticed that the seniors’ constant participation in local community activities arouses the sense of citizenship. The frequent participants are more likely to comment and advise on public affairs in their neighbourhood. That’s an obvious advance for building up a strong civil society.
A veteran living in Xindian District had been extremely reluctant to go outside his house. After the volunteers invited him to a joint dining spot, he found that it is pleasing to make new friends and be surrounded by same-aged neighbors. He gradually became open-minded and turned out donating over a million to support this project.