Collage of Music Theatre students from Sheridan

Sheridan collaboration helps puts food on the table and a song in the hearts of older adults in community housing

Feb 24, 2021
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The Putting Food on the Table Project, a collaboration with Sheridan’s Centre for Elder Research (CER), Food for Life and Community Development Halton (CDH), is addressing much more than the nutritional needs of 700 older adult clients living in community housing. To help improve the wellbeing of neighbors facing increased social isolation and loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sheridan Honours Bachelor of Music Theatre Performance students arranged and performed digital cabaret numbers to include with food package deliveries. 

“It was a bit of an unconventional ask, but our Music Theatre faculty and students jumped at the chance to get involved,” said Dr. Leigh Hayden, the project’s principal investigator with the CER. “As challenging as this pandemic has been on everyone, I see people coming together to try to create the type of world they want to live in. It’s beautiful.” 

The project is supported by a $75,000 Applied Research Rapid Response to COVID-19 grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)’s College and Community Innovation Program, which Dr. Hayden was awarded in June 2020.

Community supports are a vital lifeline for older adults, especially in the face of a virus that puts them at heightened risk and stay-at-home orders are in place. A survey in August 2020 conducted by Dr. Hayden with the support of Social Service Worker student Chloe Shackelton and Honours Bachelor of Interaction Design student Heather Mazzonna, found that of the Food for Life clients who participated, 40 per cent felt their well-being was worse than before the pandemic and the majority don’t feel comfortable leaving their homes during these uncertain times.

Mazzonna, who was closely involved in analyzing research, used her interaction design learnings to guide project leads in a series of workshops to find solutions. “The project has opened my eyes to the issues that exist for so many Canadians,” she says. “Knowing I can use my design skills to make a difference is invaluable to me, and I plan to continue on this path after graduation.”

In addition to the cabaret performances to provide entertainment to clients, the project team recruited Sheridan Honours Bachelor of Craft and Design – Textiles students to sew face masks to include in the packages. Another positive outcome is the addition of protein to the food packages, which Food for Life secured through funding bolstered by the project’s robust survey data. Combined with the non-food items from Sheridan and cards from local elementary school students and blankets made by community groups secured by CDH, the project has met its goals of improving the deliveries based on identified needs.

Donna Slater, Director of Impact at Food for Life, agrees on the project’s success, saying: “Those we serve have always been at the centre of all the decisions we make at Food for Life. Working alongside Sheridan College has allowed us to have a richer understanding of how to better support our neighbours, gleaning important feedback as we serve some of our most vulnerable in the community.”

Director of Age-Friendly initiatives at CDH, Heather Thompson, says: “It has been a pleasure to work so closely with the Sheridan team. The students have shared their skills, enthusiasm and creativity through their demonstration and use of communication and design, research on nutrition and health and as active members on the project. The leadership from the faculty has been exemplary and we look forward to our continued partnership.”

Later in the spring, the project team will survey Food for Life clients once again to learn about the impact of the enhanced food packages and identify work that still needs to be done. “Social isolation and loneliness existed before and will exist beyond the pandemic,” says Dr. Hayden. “There’s always a need to find strategies and tactics that meaningful address the issue and ways to creatively collaborative with community partners.”

Watch the Honours Bachelor of Music Theatre students perform their "Food for Thought” songs under the music direction of Chris Tsujiuchi and produced by program coordinator Jordan Laffrenier.

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