Heroes and Helpers: Giving more than food—nutrition for the soul

KOLD Heroes and Helpers: Giving more than food

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Many have been alone during the pandemic, especially senior citizens, vulnerable to COVID-19.

Wednesday at the Freedom Park Center, meals were being put into baggies for seniors. A main dish, veggies, bread and milk make for a nutritious meal, given by someone close.

“They’re my freedom family,” said Lynn LeFlohic, recreation assistant at the facility. “I would do anything for them.”

She and Stacey Belhumeur, recreation coordinator for the Freedom Center, put together the meals every week—and know every person the bags are going to, which is more than 50.

“Above and beyond the food, I think the connection is what’s keeping us all together,” said Belhumeur.

“Some of them would not be eating at home if we did not provide this service,” said LeFlohic.

Normally, the center holds social events, parties, and the meals are given inside, but COVID-19 has changed closed the doors to the rec center, and meals are now handed through plastic. Still, it’s a passion for LeFlohic.

“My goal is make everybody feel like somebody,” she said.

Together, they make someone else’s day with simple meals and a smile. Those who cannot pick up food at the center, they deliver to.

Belhumeur recalled a time a senior who normally picks up meals was absent one day.

“Very unusual for her,” she said.

The two stopped by the senior’s house and found she had fallen and were able to call authorities. They are able to continue to deliver her meals.

“We know our seniors very, very well,” said Belhumeur.

Handing out meals on a hot, smog-filled day in Tucson is worth the interactions and relationships they’re able to build, like with Glenn Blacker.

“She’s like everybody’s daughter,” he said of LeFlohic. “She just takes care of us. There’s nothing I can’t talk to her about.”

A self-described extrovert, Blacker said the isolation from COVID-19 has taken a toll on him, and others, as loneliness turns into depression. The meal pick-ups provide a chance to see another person, share a quick story and feel a little more connection.

“This is my big outing, twice a week I come for food,” he said. “it’s just the most important thing for me.”

The food he gets is more than calories and fiber, it’s nutrition for the soul. LeFlohic often arranges other activities the seniors would be able to do, like a drive-in, socially-distanced dance party, ice cream coloring pages and this week’s activity—a jar filled with candy, so they can have something sweet when they feel down, and when the jar is empty, it can be filled with all the things they want to do once the pandemic is over.

“I call them my 3 a.m. thoughts,” she said.

Thoughts, that turn into actions, and then memorable experiences for Blacker.

“She’s always doing something to give us something a little bit different,” he said. “It gives us so much more besides just the nutrition.”

The Freedom Center said they will continue to give their meals until it’s safe for the seniors, but are hoping to plan outdoor activities once it has cooled off.

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