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Donna Gray-Davis, at right, and husband Bill Davis pick up meals from Hood River Valley Adult Center. 

When you think of eating food, what comes to mind first? Maybe you think “Oh, I just need something to fill me up,” or maybe, “This will tide me over.” Maybe it’s, “I know it’s not that healthy, but it’s all I have.” Perhaps you want to make a nutritious meal, “But it is so much work.”

I hear these thoughts and more every day from seniors who come to the Hood River Valley Adult Center for lunch, and from our seniors who get home-delivered meals. I heard these statements come out of the mouth of my grandmother long before I had any idea that I would work in the field of aging. I worried about my grandmother’s words then, just as I worry about the nutritional needs of our aging population now.

Luckily, I landed in a position that focuses on senior health as a whole, and I have seniors who help me and my staff learn how to get them the nutrition and resources they need and most importantly, the ones they want. For someone to get the proper nutrition they need, we must consider the person first, along with the science of nutrition.

One of our meal participants at The Center is Donna Gray-Davis, age 86. I knew she was the gal to talk with about this because she spends a great deal of time studying the science of nutrition, while admitting that you have to spend time “eating the goodies sometimes.”

I asked Donna how her quest to “eat healthy” has been, and how it has been going since the pandemic closed The Center. Her answer was … complicated.

“I miss the salad bar and I miss eating with my friends,” she said. Donna, like a lot of us during this pandemic, is focusing hard on staying healthy, but the science on nutrition is challenging. She tried to become a vegetarian, reading as many books and articles on nutrition and vegetarianism, but found that she was losing weight without wanting to. A chat with her doctor had her back to eating meat because her doctor said it was the best way to get calorie-dense food. “I ate a lot of delicious meals prepared with meat at The Center, but it is not as fun cooking here at home.”

Studies show that isolation contributes to malnutrition, and eating with others at The Center, being social, counteracts that risk. Donna and her husband, Bill, were able to come to The Center daily, preventing the social isolation and the depression that can easily creep in without warning. Since the closure due to the pandemic, and the forced isolation, it is a real struggle to not “want to sleep all day” and “eat what is easy to prepare.” But Donna says her husband comes to The Center every day to pick up drive- through meals, including the occasional bakery sweets provided, giving Bill the chance to visit with friends waiting in line for their own meals.

“Bill gets a chance to visit with friends and that helps him,” she said.

Donna is not alone in her reliance of The Center for both social and nutritional needs. Senior centers by design are meant to promote healthy aging by giving seniors access to multiple resources to stay active and independent.

While we were talking, I was beginning to feel a bit downcast, wondering to myself, “How are we going to make this all work again they way it’s supposed to in this weird COVID-19 world?” But Donna jumped into my head right then and said, “You know dear, we seniors have been through a lot in our time and we are pretty resilient! We will get through this part of history and get ready for the next.”

The Gorge region has three great centers, The Hood River Valley Adult Center, The Mid-Columbia Senior Center and The White Salmon Senior Center. Each one works hard to provide hot nutritious meals, while also striving to meet the changing needs of our aging population.

Amy Mallett has worked in the field of aging for the last 25 years. She is the executive director of the Hood River Valley Adult Center, a member of the Aging in The Gorge Alliance, and vice chair of the Senior Advisory Council of the Area Agency on Aging.

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