Home' Australian Ageing Agenda : AAA Jan-Feb 2013 Contents "And we do an old fashioned dessert --
like bread and butter pudding or an apple
crumble. They like those the best."
West Moonah's EWF sessions cost
seniors $15 -- a fee that's just enough to
The Moonah event attracts around 50
attendees who either come with familiar
friends, turn up alone and bump into old
mates from the community, or make new
friends on the day.
"These events also give an older person
an excuse to get dressed up and go
somewhere. I always notice that people
take a bit of care with what they wear. It's
an occasion for them."
'TIS THE SIMPLE THINGS
As Dermody explains, the need for a
regular social food event for seniors
became glaringly obvious back when she
was the executive officer of Meals on
Wheels Association of Tasmania in 2000.
"Two basic needs of the human race
are really to socialise and eat together."
She got talking with the community
nutritionist about ways to provide older
people with meals and social interaction
when the pair spontaneously decided to
apply for a $64,000 grant. "We put the
application together in a week, slapped it
in and got the money!"
A project officer was employed and the
grass-roots, one location, EWF was created.
"We had 11 people at the first
luncheon. We sent out flyers through
the community health nurses and it
In its first year, 10 EWF programs
sprung up across the state. Today, there
are 35 independently operated EWF clubs
operating around Tasmania, all supported
by government HACC funding and the
work of the EWF project officer. Each
group clocks an attendance between 15
and 60 people, and 25 groups exist in
regional areas alone.
EWF project coordinator, Karen
Austen, believes there's two key reasons
why EWF has lasted the distance. It has
never relied on fundraising activities for
existence and it's based on a simple idea:
casual mealtime interaction.
"People just really love the simplicity
of it," Austen says. "Sometimes there's a
danger of overthinking things."
Coordinated by the Tasmanian
Association of Community Houses, EWF
involves the support of key stakeholders
such as Meals on Wheels volunteers,
community transport providers and local
Each community EWF group
sets their own charges to ensure
sustainability with meals ranging from
a gold coin donation to $18.
Most events are run by volunteers and
in some instances the meals are prepared
at neighbourhood houses or local high
schools with support from students.
"All the EWF programs are all different.
And they cater for people specifically in
their own area. The groups [who run it] are
from the local area. They own the project
and have a vested interest in having it work."
In mid-2012, the program was sought
out by the Benetas-led social isolation
taskforce for its demonstrable value and
is now being promoted as one of its top
three examples of best practice.
"I think older people, especially those
who look after grandkids, are just in
heaven when they come for a meal
without interruption," says Dermody.
"And they can talk to people of their own
age group with similar interests."
The 82-year-old former Cadbury
factory tour guide, Margaret Eaton,
is currently alongside Dermody, also
prepping for tomorrow's Christmas
themed lunch at West Moonah.
An active community volunteer, Eaton,
explains how she attended one of the first
EWF events 12 years ago as a diner and
has never looked back.
"Back then I thought, what am I
going to do with myself?" Eaton recalls
the reasons for her initial EWF lunch
"So I went to one of the lunches. Then I
got rigged into working and I've been here
ever since," she says comically.
Volunteering, Eaton says, involves
setting the tables, pouring the cordial into
jugs "and that sort of thing". "We do the
waitressing as well. We [the volunteers]
are pretty versatile: we do anything that
crops up. And when everyone else has got
their meal, we sit down wherever there is
a vacant seat and have our main meal."
Eaton loves the social interaction that
comes with attending and volunteering
at the EWF events. "I've always been
associated with people. My job involved
mixing with people. I come from a
family of 11 and have always had people
"Yet, once you are housebound, like a
lot of people are, to go out and have an
already prepared meal is quite a big step
for them. I live on my own and at times I
think 'I can't be bothered cooking today'.
And I am sure hundreds of people are
in the same boat. So being served a nice
lunch is quite nice."
With no notions of full-time retirement
on the horizon, both Dermody and Eaton
plan to continue volunteering for EWF
and advocating for other communities to
sample the program.
"I'll keep going as long as I can,"
says Eaton. "At present, we've got a
full compliment of volunteers but some
come and go, some give up and some
continue to volunteer...But I'm going to
keep going while I can. I think you have
to some outlet other than looking at your
And, Eaton stresses, if the program
works for her, it would be just as socially
engaging for other older people out there.
"If someone is interested in starting a
group, they have to get the information
and start with a small prototype." That's
how the original EWF concept began, she
adds. "Someone else brought a friend and
another brought their friend. And it grew
If an older person is considering
attending, "come for a trial period. See
whether you like it or not. [For West
Moonah], all you have to do is pick up
the phone by Thursday, we go shopping
on Friday and you eat on Sunday. It's
Research conducted by the Department of Rural Health UTAS, entitled Healthy Eating Healthy
Ageing (2007), explored challenges facing older rural people in staying socially connected.
The study looked at current social eating models, including Eating With Friends
groups. The results show there are benefits to getting people together to share meals in
a social setting.
Research participants drew a distinction between food and eating. Food is food,
whereas eating involves others -- it implies company and some sort of social interaction.
They clearly identified that eating with others was much more enjoyable than eating alone.
Eating With Friends provided them with invaluable social interaction and, almost as an
aside, the group also happened to provide a meal. It was the access to other people and
the anticipation of time shared that enhanced the eating experience.
The research indicates that any meal program needs to recognise the social aspect of
meals as essential -- which is what Eating With Friends does.
Some identified outcomes from the Eating With Friends Project Evaluation, conducted
by Community Focus in 2008 were: people's involvement lead to a more positive outlook
and increased motivation to eat regular and varied meals; friendships developed and
social contacts happen outside the arranged meal times; the meals provide not only good
nutrition, but a chance to socialise -- a key factor in preventing the adverse nutritional
effects of social isolation.
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