In most societies the gift of food conveys social meaning as well as nutritional sustenance.

There is no question that sharing food reduces social isolation and can enhance connectedness, encourage physical activity and open doors to new friendships.

Many people over 60 years old who completed the Pima Council on Aging’s recent community survey about the critical needs of older adults identify the value and meaning associated with giving and receiving food.

Ironically, older adults in the U.S., as a group, are considered nutritionally vulnerable. That’s one reason why the council is at the forefront of providing nutrition services for older adults and people with disabilities.

Good nutrition for older adults is crucial to maintaining their health and independence and improving recovery time from illnesses and injuries. How older adults get their nutrition varies widely.

Pima Council on Aging’s intake specialists actively encourage people to consider one of two longstanding local meals programs, including the Senior Center Meals lunch program at 13 different local recreational centers.

There’s also Pima Meals on Wheels, which provides home-delivered meals for people who are physically unable to prepare meals.

All elders participate in food sharing, as givers, recipients or both. It is valued as a way to maintain reciprocity in social relations and create a feeling of community.

For too many local older adults, receiving home-delivered meals is the mainstay of a daily diet and the only social contact for people who are limited by income or mobility and challenged to take care of basic daily home activities.

Ask if someone you know could benefit from participating in a lunch program that also provides the chance to make new friends.

The PCOA lunch program is offered at more than a dozen recreational centers across metro Tucson and in Green Valley and Ajo.

The lunch programs are open to everyone 60 and older and their spouses, regardless of the spouse’s age.

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Once a person has selected a specific recreational center location and has registered for the program at that center, the individual will be required to reserve the meals each week. That way, the centers know they’re coming and lunch will be waiting.

The lunch programs are generally open weekdays from 9 a.m. to after lunchtime, though days and hours can vary.

Local senior centers often offer activities during these weekday meal programs, depending on the site. They can include games, movies, crafts and field trips.

A transportation subsidy may be available to get someone to the lunch program center sites. Transportation is provided via Sun Van to people with disabilities with a current ADA Eligibility Card issued by the city of Tucson.

A donation of $2 to $3 for reserved meals is requested.

Check out the monthly lunch menu posted online at www.pcoa.org/services/meals-and-nutrition. Click on “Senior Center Meals” then click on “View Monthly Menu.”

Adina Wingate is the director of marketing and public relations for the Pima Council on Aging.