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Column: Teaming up to provide healthy meals | Opinion

Kerry Murphy, health and wellness coordinator for the city of Salem, and Kelley Annese, nutrition education and outreach coordinator for the Salem Council on Aging, have been working together for the past four years with older adults in Salem to address food insecurity and social isolation and to improve nutrition. Kerry also chairs the health subcommittee of the Salem for All Ages Task Force, which is now finishing its fifth and final year of the Salem for All Ages action plan.

Pre-COVID-19, Kerry and Kelley collaborated on a program called Taste & Talks, which were in-person cooking demonstrations paired with nutrition talks that they brought to community rooms at local senior housing sites and to the Community Life Center. When the pandemic caused them to end the in-person Taste & Talk program, they pivoted to an online format, filming cooking videos and nutrition education that air on SATV and the Council on Aging’s Facebook page. Like the Taste & Talks, each segment uses recipes that are easy to make, nutritious and affordable. The format is similar to the Taste & Talks where nutrition education is provided during the cooking demonstration. “We recognized that people were starting to feel even more socially isolated than ever before due to the COVID restrictions and one of the ways we could help was to make videos that the Council on Aging could easily share through Facebook and email,” Annese said.

The videos have been especially helpful for those living alone and cooking for one. “We know that older adults, especially those living alone, are at especially high risk for malnutrition,” Murphy said. “The pandemic has exacerbated this risk, so we’re trying to promote good nutrition while making it as easy as possible for those cooking for just themselves.” They will continue to create and share these videos along with returning to in-person programs in 2022.

Kelley and Kerry also work closely with other local organizations like Root and The Salem Pantry. During the height of the pandemic, they assisted Root with a meal delivery program to homebound seniors twice a week. Kelley, who also works for the Salem Housing Authority, organized weekly mobile markets at senior housing sites in partnership with the Salem Pantry. “The Salem pantry has been extremely generous and we are grateful to be able to host them at a few of our bigger older adult housing sites,” she said. “As the weather gets colder and it becomes more challenging for folks to go shopping, it is helpful to have free groceries on site for people to take advantage of.” .

Kelley also spearheaded the raised bed garden project at the Community Life Center. This project was supported by a Mass Council on Aging service incentive grant awarded to the Community Life Center in the early spring of 2021. Kelley organized a team of dedicated volunteers from the community to assist with the project. The Backyard Growers from Gloucester were contracted to build the raised beds and also provide training to the volunteers on how to create and care for their new on-site garden. The garden began to produce vegetables just in time to be shared with the community during the free drive-up farmers market on Tuesday mornings in the summer and early fall. Kerry and Kelley teamed up once again to offer an on-site cooking demonstration at the Community Life Center over the summer for a one-pot meal that utilized some produce from the garden. Participants painted pottery bowls that were glazed, fired and ready to use for a healthy meal!

Kerry Murphy is health and wellness coordinator for the city of Salem. This column is produced in cooperation with the Salem for All Ages Task Force.