Food Security and Connectedness is Key to North Carolina Seniors Aging in Place

More than 40 residents of an independent-living apartment for low-income seniors will soon have the opportunity to grow their own food from a community garden and a chance to know each other a bit better.

The residents at Mercy Place in Belmont, N.C., just outside of Charlotte, recently watched UnitedHealthcare volunteers prepare the community garden for planting, in a metropolitan area that ranks last among large U.S. cities for affordable housing

UnitedHealthcare volunteers worked outdoors weeding and tilling the community garden before planting a mix of veggies and herbs.  Meanwhile, local wellness chef Erin Denison demonstrated to the residents how to make healthy meals from fresh ingredients, including tomatoes and basil being planted in the garden that morning.

As part of its “Do Good. Live Well.” employee volunteer initiative, whose mission is to prevent hunger and obesity, inspire service and encourage volunteerism, UnitedHealthcare provided a grant to help ensure Mercy Place residents in Belmont continue to have an affordable place to call home.

“When you look at North Carolina’s aging population, the largest areas of opportunity are helping people feel connected to and supported by our local communities and making sure they have access to healthy food,” said Tommy O’Connor, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement of North Carolina.

While having access to an affordable home is an important step in security for the state’s aging population, residents tend to become isolated in their apartments. That’s why the community garden is critical for Mercy Place to help residents address both the need for a healthy diet and maintain those connections with others.

“We are committed to helping our residents to live independently and age in place for as long as possible,” said Selena Freeman Reese, regional director of resident services for Mercy Housing. “An important part of that is to encourage healthy eating habits and provide the opportunity for our residents to grow and share fresh vegetables in our community garden. The community garden also serves as opportunity to decrease social isolation and encourage communication and interaction amongst residents and their neighbors.”