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Food for thought

Feeding the elderly in North Omaha


Published: Monday, November 12, 2012

Updated: Monday, November 12, 2012 11:11


Joe Shearer/The Gateway

Blackburn High School culinary students serve an early Thanksgiving meal to North Omaha seniors last Wednesday.


It may seem early for Thanksgiving, but who would turn down a free Thanksgiving meal with friends?

UNO and Blackburn High School students cooked up a Thanksgiving feast for the elderly at the Adams Park Community Center on Wednesday. The program, “Food for Thought,” brings together generations of people, from all sorts of backgrounds to serve the greater Omaha community.

It’s all a part of the UNO Service Learning Academy.  

“Our goal is to make educators understand that service is a method of teaching,” said Julie Dierberger, director of the P-16 Initiative. The P-16 Initiative focuses on students in high school and younger working with UNO students.  

“Food for Thought” was started in the summer of 2010 when UNO Gerontology professor Lyn Holley showed up with a project she had been working on previously.

“I was looking for a minority elderly group for one of my classes when we found the group from Adams Park,” Holley said.  

Since about 2006, Holley has taken students to work with the North Omaha elderly at their community center. It was eventually closed down because of funding, which is how they came to reside at Adams Park. Not only did they lose their building, but they also lost the funding for their meals, which is how the Blackburn High School students entered into the picture.

Students in Blackburn’s culinary arts program go to Adam’s Park every Wednesday to prepare food for the senior citizens.  

“These meals aren’t usually too lavish because of budget, but they learn a lot of good skills serving there,” Holley said.  

Holley and Dierberger said many seniors have diabetes, dental problems or specialized diets and students are learning valuable skills in preparing meals for unique dietary needs. Building Bright Futures helps provide money to buy the raw ingredients, and students prepare and serve meals on their own.

“On Wednesday they pulled out all the stops,” Holley said.  

Turkey, two kinds of cranberry sauce, and low sodium alternatives were all available for the seniors of Adams Park. While the new location and diminished funding have cut down the number of seniors that used to show up in 2006, these meals on Wednesday have dramatically increased the numbers. About 75 seniors showed up for the meal.

Besides meals, the center is on track to receive state and city aid again after the years of dedication invested by UNO and its community partners. A lift elevator to get to the second floor, making the building more handicapped accessible, and preliminary discussions about bringing back the meal budget have inspired the everyone contributing to work hard.

“The kids love doing this. They have their apron and hats, and call each other chef, and know these seniors by name,” Dierberger said.  

Holley said many students from her past classes continue to serve the Adams Park residents. Both agreed that the project is not just an impersonal excursion in the community, but rather, a personal relationship made between generations and educational levels.

The Service Learning Academy is available for all students and faculty to get involved with. Dierberger said all departments, from social work to physics were currently involved, and explained that service is a valuable learning tool.  

“It’s not just some abstract use of your time, you take the theory and knowledge you learn in your program, and practice it,” Dierberger said.  

If you want a chance to get involved with the community of Omaha, stop by their office in the student center or check them out online.  

In the meantime, celebrate the achievements of everyone from Professor Holley and her gerontology students, to Blackburn students and their teachers, and Dierberger and Building Bright Futures for putting on a fantastic Thanksgiving feast for senior citizens in North Omaha. Their hard work and action is being recognized by the city and state, and facilitating real community change in Omaha.

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