On the second Monday night of each month, Oxford residents gather at the Oxford Senior Center for meals prepared by Miami University nutrition students and various volunteers. These monthly meals began in September 2022 and have attracted a growing crowd ever since.
The idea for the community meals came from Nancy Parkinson, associate clinical lecturer in Miami’s kinesiology, nutrition, and health department. Parkinson is a member of the Oxford Presbyterian Church, which has been one of five churches participating in weekly Wednesday dinners for more than 20 years.
Parkinson said she noticed a need for a community meal in a location more neutral than a church. She pitched the idea during an August meeting between the churches and other community organizations.
The Oxford Senior Center director, Steve Schnabl, came to the meeting and said they were trying to get programming back at the Senior Center.
“I thought, ‘Well, there's a need in that community [the senior center] to provide food and friendship and just getting together because we've been closed up with COVID,’” Parkinson said. “And the members of the faith communities said that they wanted to get back to that friendship.”
While the meal takes place at the senior center, Parkinson says the event is for all members of the community.
Hannah Rogers, a junior nutrition major, volunteers as a server at the dinners. A requirement for one of her nutrition classes, Rogers said, is to volunteer at Oxford community events preparing or serving food.
Rogers said she enjoys helping out with the raffles at the end of the dinner. Healthy ingredients and cooking supplies are given out to encourage participants to cook nutritious meals.
“One time, an older man’s name was called, and half the room started clapping and the other half of the room yelling, ‘You always win, Bob,’” Rogers said. “It was really fun to watch.”
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The senior center also has a drive-thru option to pick up the meal for people worried about COVID-19, Parkinson said.
Roger added that nutrition students also knock on doors of the senior center’s residents and offer them packaged meals.
“A lot of people don’t yet know about the dinner, so walking around the senior center asking, ‘Hey, would you like a free meal?’ has helped seniors learn about the community dinner,” Rogers said. “Most of the time, they also really enjoy getting a free meal.”
Parkinson teaches a food systems management class where her students are assigned to plan a menu for a community event, such as these dinners.
“Students do the costing of the menu, nutritional analysis and then help plan. Senior students help plan the nutrition education,” Parkinson said. “Part of the planning is built into one of my classes, so that gives them some real world experience.”
The community dinner at the senior center is one of the events put on through the Culinary Nutrition Depot. Students in the nutrition and dietetics program and the Student Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (SAND) participate in a variety of other programs including a weekly Lunch and Learn program and nutrition education at TOPSS food pantry.
The dinner is followed by a nutrition demonstration from Parkinson’s KNH303 Food Systems Management class; Parkinson and one of her students teaches the participants how to make a meal with healthier options than it typically would use. The demonstration also teaches about what makes certain foods healthier than others and how to make a balanced meal.
For November, Parkinson demonstrated how to make spaghetti squash alongside senior nutrition major Lauren Miller.
Miller is an intern through Miami’s nutrition department and has had Parkinson as a professor since Miller’s first year. Part of her role includes planning for the community dinner demonstrations.
“We try to base the meal for the demonstration on what we're serving for the main meal,” Miller said. “We served pasta tonight, so we chose to teach how to make spaghetti squash as an alternative.”
Miller said the dinners have become increasingly popular.
“Everyone brings their friends, and the first one was a smaller group, but it keeps growing, so obviously the word is getting out,” Miller said. “Nancy takes some meals to all the houses nearby, so I think it's fun for everyone to come hang out with their friends and catch up.”
In addition to her nutrition students, Parkinson has recruited volunteers from ROTC, Kiwanis Circle K, the Student Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Oxford churches.
Paulette Worcester is a member of the Presbyterian Church, where she was first made aware of the community dinner and volunteered as a server at the dinner on Nov. 14.
Worcester came to the dinner with her husband. The two brought an apple slab pie that Worcester made.
“It’s been fun. I’ve known a few of the people that have come to the dinner, some from the church,” Worcester said. “It’s nice to see people and participate.”
Mickey Preston sat with her friends Jerri Hill and Wilma Glasshagel. Preston and Hill heard about the dinner from the senior center newsletter, and Glasshagel heard from word of mouth.
An Oxford resident for 60 years, Preston has been to all of the meals so far. Her favorite dish they served was mashed potatoes and gravy.
Hill enjoys the raffles and spending time with her friends.
“Last time I won a reusable bag, so that was fun,” Hill said. “If I wasn’t here I’d probably be at home with a TV dinner.”
Parkinson said so far the community meals have been funded by alumni donations to the nutrition department, and she is looking to apply for Oxford grants. The Oxford Coalition for a Healthy Community plans to pay for the January meal, and a program with the Oxford Chamber of Commerce is also in the works.
Each month, Parkinson centers the dinner around a theme. For the month of November the dinner honored veterans. Parkinson said a few years ago one of her students who was in the military had introduced her to the tradition of the missing comrade table.
“The table is set for one, symbolizing the fact that some are missing from our ranks. The tablecloth is white, symbolizing the purity of their intentions to respond to their country’s call of arms,” Parkinson said. “I want to thank all of the students who I’ve worked with for their dedication.”
The next community dinner will be held on Monday, Dec. 12, and Parkinson plans to have Christmas cookie decorating at the dinner.