I just got back from spending the day with Dolly, Cecily, Joan, and 9 other elderly ladies at a charming residential care home in north London. Ranging in age from their early 80s to 95 the ladies gathered together today to bake bread with me. Some cannot stand, some cannot really interact with people any more as a result of dementia, some are as sharp as tacks and Dolly (the dancer) will do a wee song and dance with you on the slightest invitation. All of them had an interest in socialising and doing something different or at least doing something that they had not done for years.
Dolly’s mother baked every Saturday. One of the other ladies’ fathers was a professional baker outside Paris. Two Irish ladies remembered the soda bread and potato farles they made daily when they were children: cooked on a griddle because they had no ovens. Their eyes lit up as they told stories of their childhoods and, for one of them, the smell of yeast was such a strong memory trigger that she refused to touch the dough at all even though that was what she had come to do.
Baking with the elderly is one of the four charitable activities that Virtuous Bread does. The reason I specifically want to bake with the elderly is because it grieves me that, after a life time of service, many elderly people find themself with nothing to do – nobody to care for, nobody to provide for, nobody asking anything of them – and so, without a purpose. Many get depressed and feel entirely cut off – like their lives have already ended even though they are still alive. By baking with them I hope not only to provide a social activity for those whose minds are far too lively to watch television all day, but also to enable them to contribute to the community in which they live.
With the help of Jonathan, a 14 year old school boy doing a week’s work experience who turned out to be a patient assistant and fantastic baker, we baked 4 loaves of soda bread, 8 loaves of wholemeal bread and 12 little bread rolls. The soda bread was ready for lunch time and those who could, gobbled it up (“butter please”) and asked for more. More soda bread and butter will be available at tea time along with fairy cakes, the bread rolls will be served with soup this evening and the whole wheat bread will be served, as toast, for breakfast for as long as it lasts. It is conceivable that a few hours work together, around the sunny tables in the dining room, will feed the some of the residents for a couple of days. There was just a little bit of pride going on as those who baked received the compliments of those who ate. I wait to hear from Mary about how the rest has gone down and we have arranged to do it again next month so I guess she is anticipating a positive reaction and that, for us, is the best result.
It is so easy to get involved, to build communities and make people’s lives just a little bit easier. What is your purpose?
Eat well. Do good.