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Sharing kai, building bridges

A new programme at Featherston Community Centre [FCC] aims to bridge the gap between the generations – helping ease loneliness for older people, and arming tamariki with solid catering skills.

Next month, FCC will begin its Kai and Connection initiative, inviting children from Featherston’s three primary schools to link up with local kaumātua [senior citizens], and build relationships “through sharing traditions, knowledge, skills, and stories”.

The programme will, as the name suggests, have a strong focus on that which can connect all age groups: Food. In the centre’s kitchen, kaumātua will pass on their time-honoured cooking “tricks” to their young counterparts – everything from using seasonal ingredients, to making a carrot fritter, “all the things you can do with self-raising flour”.

Earlier this year, FCC was one of 13 organisations to receive funding from the Office of Seniors, successfully applying for a grant from its Age-Friendly Fund. As part of the fund, grants of up to $15,000 are available for projects that promote inclusion of older people in New Zealand communities.

FCC manager Jo Baldwin was hopeful Kai and Connection would give Featherston’s kaumātua the opportunity to share “all their wonderful knowledge” with a new generation, and feel more connected to their community. And, hopefully, learn some new tricks themselves.

“Our grandparents’ generation have lived through some hard times, and have so many wonderful skills: Like how to prepare a meal from minimal food choices, cooking from scratch, and growing their own food. And that knowledge isn’t always passed down, so it’s getting lost,” Baldwin said.

“Being able to share their knowledge can help our kaumatua feel valued and needed. And the tamariki will be able to pass on their knowledge of the modern world.

“You often hear [seniors] say, ‘oh, kids these days’, and that young people don’t respect older people. I think this will help both groups seem a bit less mystical to each other.”

Baldwin said the idea for Kai and Connection came about at the end of last year, after a group from Featherston School performed haka and waiata for FCC’s weekly Wisdom and Wellbeing group – mostly attended by people over 60. The children handed out gift boxes they had put together, and spent time getting to know the older members of their community.

“Both the tamariki and kaumatua’s faces just lit up. The kids loved being able to give, and having an adoring audience – and the older people loved being able share their stories. They felt seen.”

When creating the programme, it was important to Baldwin to address two main issues: Loneliness and food insecurity. She said she and the FCC staff had noticed, from conversations with their older visitors, that loneliness had increased recently amongst Featherston’s senior population.

“A lot of older people didn’t feel safe going out during covid – particularly when some people weren’t wearing masks or social distancing,” Baldwin said.

“After a while, it became easier just to sit at home in front of the TV.

“Kai insecurity is also an issue, for all generations. If children can prepare food here, for example, they can take leftovers home with them.”

The programme will kick off at the start of Term 2, assisted by a small team of volunteers. Baldwin hopes to make good use of FCC’s pātaka kai [food pantry], which receives regular donations of fresh produce.

“We get a lot of marrows and zucchini dropped off, for example. One time, we got about 10kg of carrots.

“There are a lot of things you can do with carrots – and it’s amazing how many people don’t know how to cook a carrot fritter. It’s all about learning to use what you’ve got.”

Baldwin said the Office of Seniors funding would also go towards a new group at FCC for older people who may need “more wrap-around support” – for example, those with social anxiety.

For more information about Kai and Connection, contact Jo Baldwin via email at: [email protected]

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Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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