“Our organization is not just simply providing meals. We [provide] an integrated service with the hopes that even one more older adult in our community can live a full life with the dignity they deserve.”
–Setsuko Nakama, Executive Director, Little Tokyo Nutrition Services
On a Tuesday morning of a rather warm winter for Los Angeles, the kitchen behind the Little Tokyo Towers dining hall is busy and bustling. Mariko Miyazato, the dining coordinator for over 20 years, oversees the volunteers as they fill the plates and to-go boxes with delicious meals: teriyaki chicken sits next to a fresh scoop of maze gohan along with kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) tempura on the plate with a small carton of milk. For under $3, older adults can enjoy a nutritious Japanese-inspired bento, either at the dining hall or delivered directly to their homes.
The Little Tokyo Senior Nutrition Services (LTNS), whose mission is to “maintain the health of the body and mind to older adults,” provides nearly 200 meals at an affordable price to Little Tokyo Towers residents at the dining hall and many other older adults in the community through home delivery every day of the week. Not only does LTNS provide these meals while adhering to strict regulations, but the meals are also healthy thanks to a nutritionist they were able to hire. With declining government funding for similar nutrition programs in recent years, the Keiro grant provides vital support for the program’s operational costs.
Masayoshi Sasaki, a resident of the Towers, whose favorite menu item is the ginger pork, eats there every day and enjoys the convenient access to nutritious food. Having a congregate meal program onsite not only provides residents with the opportunities to socialize, but also allows staff and volunteers to check in with the residents.
At the same time, the program delivers nearly 100 meals daily to homebound Japanese American and Japanese older adults in the community. Since its establishment in 1976, this organization has been delivering health and smiles to many older adults living in downtown Los Angeles.
Although urban areas like downtown LA are densely populated with people seemingly everywhere, the risks for social isolation lie where “features of city life can limit the mobility among older people, discourage social interaction, and increase the probability of isolation.”¹ Concerns about security are higher in urban cities, which can deter older adults from going outside, leading to isolation. Having regular, meaningful social interactions, such as through a nutrition program, can help lower risk of social isolation for older adults.
The program also provides engagement and purpose to volunteers and staff. On any given day, a dozen volunteers pack bento boxes in the back of the kitchen. One volunteer, Toshie Kawaguchi began volunteering three years ago and is now coming in several times per week, mainly to keep her body and brain healthy.
Setsuko Nakama, LTNS executive director, spoke at the Keiro Grants Luncheon in April 2017: “Our organization is not just simply providing meals. Ever since its establishment in 1976, we have been providing an integrated service with the hopes that even one more older adult in our community can live a full life with the dignity they deserve, and enjoy a healthy life after retirement for as long as possible. We are wishing and trying hard to preserve the culture and the pride for our Japanese heritage. We continue to do this because we believe that that is the way to respect and give back to the older Japanese American generation from before and after World War II who have sacrificed so much for us.”
1 Gusmano, M. K., & Rodwin, V.G. (2010). Urban Aging, Social Isolation, and Emergency Preparedness. Global Ageing: Issues & Action, 6(2). Retrieved from: https://www.ifa-fiv.org/wp-content/uploads/global-ageing/6.2/6.2.gusmano.rodwin.pdf