Heather Thompson is the Director of Age-Friendly Initiatives with Community Development Halton. Within the World Health Organization’s framework of an Age-Friendly practice, Heather has been actively steering the activities and projects of the Burlington Age-Friendly Council since 2013 and serves as the current Chair of the Halton Age-Friendly Network and the Southern Ontario Age-Friendly Network. She currently serves on the Board of Directors with the Ontario Association of Councils on Aging.
Heather recently completed graduate studies at Queen’s University, receiving a Master of Science degree in Aging and Health. Her work and volunteer experience have encompassed leadership roles in the non-profit sector in Quebec and Ontario, including youth justice, disabilities, mental health, community support services for older adults, palliative and hospice care.
Heather has been invited as a guest speaker at international, national, provincial and local conferences and events to present on the topics of aging, and Age-friendly initiatives.
Heather is strong advocate for inclusive communities where all people can fully participate without barriers.
Addressing food security needs of older adults during COVID-19
Heather Thompson, Community Development Halton, Canada
At the beginning of the pandemic, older adults were deemed at high risk of death and illness due to COVID-19. The result left a number of older adults alone in their homes, requiring access to community services to survive, including fresh produce delivery services, like Food for Life. Food for Life (a food rescue organization) created a Senior’s Healthy Food package delivered to the door for those unable to access fresh food. Food for Life quickly recognized there was an opportunity to do more with both food and community resources. This led to a joint partnership with the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research and Community Development Halton to get a better understanding of the needs of isolated older adults.
In order to understand client needs, we developed a survey to send to the existing older adult clients of Food for Life. This survey contained questions about demographics, nutritional risk (using the SCREEN-8 tool), functional health status, food security, satisfaction with the current package, unmet food needs, perceptions of COVID and socialization. Respondents had options of responding through a paper-based, online, or telephone surveys.
After receiving and summarizing the survey results, we reviewed the data individually, and then as a larger team in two design sessions. During these sessions, we identified the major themes, emerging needs, and brainstormed how to address these needs, and systematically developed an approach to developing an “enhanced package” through a series of activities.
We rolled out the activities to enhance the packages through several mechanisms including: seeking additional funding, making process adjustments, developing an education campaign, and seeking wider community and college support.
In order to learn about the impact of the modifications made, and what needs remain, we conducted a follow-up survey.
Of the 800 baseline surveys that went out, 216 were completed. Our respondents were mostly female (70%), with an average age of 78, mostly lived alone (68%), and 25% reported food insecurity. In addition, 80% reported being high nutritional risk. In terms of their package, we learned that people wanted more protein options, wider variety of foods, fewer large quantities of any particular food, and that during the summer months the new delivery system made for a higher likelihood of bruised and damaged produce. We also learned that respondents were worried about COVID, needed PPE, were making fewer trips outside of their apartment buildings for supplies and recreation, and reported a reduced social life.
In response, we modified some of the “back end” processes at Food for Life to increase variety and improve packaging. The team applied and received funding for: additional protein, PPE, and to fund an intergenerational community letter and card writing campaign to connect clients to the wider community to reduce social isolation. We also provided information about food safety, food handling, food rescue, nutrition, and community supports.
We discuss the impacts of these activities and what work remains to address food security and overall wellness among isolated older adults in the region.