A serving of food and friendship

He still likes to drive his red truck and loves his independent life in big sky country.

Yet life in Trochu (population 1,058) is not what it used to be. Many of his friends have either moved or passed away. 

“Things changed a lot in the last few years. There are new workers and new people in our area. But I don’t really get to know them,” says Allan Gehring, 88, who has been living alone since he got divorced from his wife over 40 years ago.  

Allan says his daughter, 59, and her husband live three hours north in Barrhead, Alberta. He has two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. “I don’t get to see them enough. But that’s the way it goes in life sometimes.”

Recognizing that seniors who are living on their own may want to get together with people more often, or that they may even be dealing with social isolation, St. Mary’s Health Care Centre is piloting Wheels to Meals. 

“The idea behind this is to capture isolated seniors that maybe don’t get out, or need care and don’t know how to access it,” says Kathy Smith, Site Administrator for the long-term care residence for seniors.

To date, 14 seniors are participating in the free dinner and socialization pilot program, which launched in July and will run until the end of September and has been funded by the St. Mary’s Trochu Foundation. The seniors drive themselves to the centre for the twice a week three-hour event, which starts with a dinner and ends with games and entertainment. 

Allan has attended all the dinners since the program started. “I enjoy the program because I’m able to sit down with other people rather than be by myself, and that’s a big thing. I enjoy the food because it is home cooked.”

Allan says he loves the variety of food on the weekly menu, especially the meatballs and fish. “When you’re living alone, it’s hard to decide what you’re going to have. Quite often I have a frozen TV dinner.”

The long-term care residents who call St. Mary’s home also benefit.  Margaret Stankievech, 95, likes the program because she gets to see people from the community whom she has known for many years. “The program lets them see what we’re all about here as residents of the lodge.”

Everyone gets caught up with community news, which is a good thing, adds Margaret.

Allan, who served as Trochu’s mayor for two decades, knows it might not be long until he moves into the residence. “It’s hard especially during the winter months. I have to hire someone to shovel the snow so I can get out of the house.”

The program faces some challenges unique to a rural setting. Kathy says she’s exploring ways to continue Wheels to Meals and is looking at providing transportation for seniors from their home to the lodge during winter.

“The future hope is to become sustainable and go to other community groups to seek some form of subsidy to make the program really affordable and for it to grow.”

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