Could anything be more refreshing on a sweltering August day than a lemon-spiked cold glass of water? Yes: If that drink includes a sprig of homegrown mint grown, along with oregano, thyme and basil, at the herb garden at Shalom Apartments in Warwick.
While many seniors participate in Rhode Island’s senior mealsites, which offer lunches each weekday for a very modest fee, only those seniors eating at the Shalom Mealsite benefit from Carol Barry’s TLC (tender loving care), which shows in the meals that are deliciously enhanced by those herbs. With extensive culinary experience, Carol, Shalom Mealsite manager, understands – and appreciates – the benefits of a healthy, appealing meal served at a beautifully set table, with individual place servings and vases filled with flowers.
Any project involving Mother Nature and human participation requires patience and creativity, and this project was no different. Even before Carol came to run the Shalom Mealsite five years ago, participants at the Trudeau Center, a nonprofit organization addressing the needs of adults with developmental disabilities, came to the Shalom Mealsite venue to eat their own brown-bag lunches. Soon, a Trudeau Center staff member suggested that the Center’s participants could help put coffee creamers on the tables and fulfill other minor tasks associated with serving lunches to the seniors. A formal relationship between Shalom and the Trudeau Center developed, and Trudeau participants were trained for kitchen duties. Then, Carol hired Raymond, a Trudeau participant, to work as Shalom’s Mealsite steward.
“Three years ago, the Shalom Mealsite attendance increased by 66%,” says Carol. Recognizing that growing demand for Shalom Mealsite meals, West Bay Community Action, a nonprofit organization that co-sponsors (with the Rhode Island Office of Healthy Aging) the Shalom Mealsite, asked if a raised garden could be installed. Fast forward to last summer when two raised beds – each about four feet by two feet – were built, and Trudeau Center participants planted, maintained and harvested the tomatoes and herbs, including basil, thyme, oregano and mint. After last year’s somewhat disappointing tomato harvest, this summer’s garden is exclusively herb-based, says Carol.
“On average, we serve about 40 seniors each day, including Shalom residents and members of the community,” says Carol. “One of only two senior mealsites in the West Bay area, the Shalom Mealsite is also one of only two senior mealsites in Rhode Island – the other is in Westerly – that is based in a senior housing development.
Carol incorporates Jewish culinary traditions – apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah and a Seder for Passover – as well as Christmas and Easter foods into the meals. “I call myself an Irish Catholic Jewish girl,” says Carol, who worked for 20 years with a kosher caterer.
“Shalom has always strived to be more than just a senior housing development,” says Shalom Executive Director Bonnie Sekeres. “It is part of the larger community, where the Trudeau Center participants have become a part of Shalom’s family.”