Why not Make a Meal of it?
This pack brings you ideas on why it helps, how to get started and how to build connections that include everyone.
Make a Meal of It: A Simple Way to Tackle Community Isolation
A community meal is a great way to extend the warm welcome of a church into the neighbourhood. With a little planning and some creative ideas, even a small group can have a big impact on their community. Whether as a ‘one- off’ or a regular event, the chance to meet, share food and chat together can offer a chance for genuine connections and new friendships.
Who is it for?
A meal event also presents an opportunity to make contact with older members of the community who may be at risk of isolation. Bereavement, or family and friends moving on can result in limited contact with others- yet churches are often in a great place to help and draw people into community.
The resource pack we’ve developed is to encourage us to think through the best ways to connect with those who may be older and isolated. We hope it will spark conversations and activities across the generations, and that there will be something for everyone- from those planning an afternoon tea, right through to those aiming to deliver a three course extravaganza. It’s all about making connections and sharing God’s love.
Preparing to Make a Meal of It.
• Have a meeting! Gather a group to share your vision for connecting with those who may be older and isolated. Do you need specific roles? Who is making community connections? Who is providing support with transport? Who will co-ordinate the food? Who is in charge of publicity? Invest in prayer for the event. Might you partner with another church on this?
• What would work best? Quality connections trump large numbers every time- It doesn’t have to be big to be effective. If you’re a small group, a sandwich tea which is beautifully prepared with flowers & napkins can create a warm welcome.
• Who should be there? Ensuring there is a wide guest list will lead to a more vibrant event and ensure that no- one feels ‘labelled as lonely.’
• Think about your key message: ‘We’re running a meal at church to celebrate our community – we’d like to welcome older people we don’t usually see at our events- can you help us extend the invitation?’ or ‘Come and Make a Meal of It!’
• Transport: Can you collect people? Are there access requirements you need to be aware of? Will local cab firms provide a discounted rate?
• Talk to those who will know who to invite. Older members of a congregation are often key connectors- the ‘active retired’ often volunteer with those who may be isolated. Talk to GP Practice Managers, U3A groups, AGE UK groups, the local Voluntary Sector Group. Also, local landlords and shopkeepers could be just the people to help you invite those they see that no one else does. Why not ask them for an introduction, or ask them to hand out a flyer?
• Plan beyond the event. What are your next steps? Is this a one- off, or are there ways you can continue to be in touch? What other activities do you run each week you can help others access. Would a quiet communion or a tea club present an opportunity to link people in?
Make a Meal of It Together
• Everyone gets Involved: Aim for a spirit of ‘together and with’ rather than ‘doing this for you.’ Make sure that everyone helping gets a chance to sit and chat with those who are coming along if they want to- this might take careful planning, but will lead to greater connections.
• Create Conversations: Encourage everyone to get involved in a talking game using prepared ‘chat cards’ that offer a way of breaking the ice, where both parties are encouraged to answer to get to know one another. E.g. ‘My favourite thing about our community.’ ‘How long have I lived here.’ ‘My favourite activity to relax.’ It would provide another opportunity for those of different generations to mix.
• Make it Fun: Consider some games tables: playing cards, back gammon, dominoes can be a great way for quieter guests to find a comfortable space to enjoy.
• Make it Crafty: Making simple paper bunting where all generations are encouraged to write or draw things they love about their community- stringing the bunting, or placing the flags on a noticeboard with meal guests in front could make a wonderful photo moment. Sending a copy of the photo would be a great way to follow up.
• Invite Input: Contributions from within your community can add something special. Would any musicians play some songs or provide some background music? Could both a younger or older person be encouraged to share their hobby?
• Where Faith Fits: An opening prayer would be appropriate, or an invitation to a service before the meal could work well in your context. E.g. A service themed around Jesus’ feeding the 5000 might prove a helpful frame for the meal.
• Community Connecting: Making a Meal of it could provide a great opportunity to do some light- touch community consultation. If you’re considering follow up- think of a key question to ask people: ‘What activities would you like to see more of?’or ‘What stops you getting out at the moment?’
Make it Easy : Staying in Touch
• A handmade ‘Thank you’ card could be a nice way to stay in touch- you might want to equip the children in your church with craft materials to make these whilst the meal is happening.
• Think about Information you would like to give people. The contact numbers for the pastoral team, services and events coming up may be useful.
• Organise a group debrief. Did you Make a Meal of it? What went well, and what could we improve? Do we have an appetite for anything else?
• After the event, speak to those who helped spread the word, from GP practices to Age UK groups. What is their feedback? Is there anything else they think you could do?
Now you know how to Make a Meal of It, we’d love to stay in touch. We’re a group of Christian organisations who have an interest in tackling isolation and loneliness in older people.
For more information and inspiration on connecting with older people in your community, please take a look at our resources below: