3 min read

Better Together – How A Community Garden Kept Seniors Connected Through COVID-19

In 2018, carya’s Elder Friendly Communities embarked on a project to connect seniors, address food insecurity, and create a network of inspired and invested gardeners … because we’re better together.

Located in the Northwest community of Highland Park, JE Harris House is a subsidized senior’s living complex that is home to 100 older Calgarians. Partnering with Calgary Heritage Housing and Chirp Foods, carya invested in developing a community garden at the residence that would build not only a shared space to grow and enjoy food, but a space for seniors to connect and socialize with each other. 

“The Harris House Garden is a beautiful example of the community development Elder Friendly Communities does, and why it’s so impactful,” said Jamie Reboul, program Supervisor. “It gave residents a reason to interact with each other and build supportive relationships, and we also saw them learn how to navigate conflict with one another in a healthier, more productive way.” 

Through 2020 and into 2021, the Harris House Garden project soon filled an unpredictable gap. 

Activating the garden into a space where seniors could grow food, learn and share new skills, and participate in something together meant that when the pandemic hit, seniors at Harris House had a purpose and passion – giving them a way to socialize and connect safely with each other. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to take hold in earnest in Calgary, seniors across the city were faced with the very real potential of more isolation and loneliness than ever before. While Harris House residents had begun to find routine and joy in their shared garden, they had to adjust and adapt throughout the pandemic. 

“Many folks chose to work together in the garden and set up schedules to ensure physical distancing and safe numbers,” Reboul said.
“The garden became really important to them, and during the pandemic it helped make them feel less lonely by reminding them they were part of a community of people who cared about the same thing.” 

Of course, with a garden comes the harvest and Harris House residents had hoped to gather and cook meals together using the food they grew together. But as with so many things in the last eighteen months, these shared meals had to be reimagined in response to COVID-19 restrictions. So carya’s Elder Friendly Communities team shifted to a new food model – Doorstep Dining. 

Each week, residents of Harris House were provided a new recipe with ingredients they could prepare safely at home, on the same day as everyone else. The Doorstep Dining initiative reduced food insecurity and access and gave residents something to look forward to. 

Most importantly, though, it bridged a gap between life before and during a pandemic: 

“It gave them a sense of connection with others even when they couldn’t be together physically,” said Reboul. 

Today you can have double the impact in helping improve social connection opportunities for people like residents at Harris House. Thanks to a special matching contribution you can double your donation instantly until the end of the year.

Donate to carya’s Better Together campaign today.

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carya’s Elder Friendly Communities believes our senior years are a time to connect, share and learn with others in their community. We offer a variety of programs and opportunities to support seniors in building meaningful relationships with themselves and others.