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Hospital and First Nation team up to make meals for elders

Yukon hospital workers in Watson Lake have been preparing frozen meals in the hospital kitchen, to be delivered by the Liard First Nation to Kaska elders in the community.

Frozen meals cooked in Watson Lake hospital kitchen delivered weekly to elders in community

Bev Lister, a cook at the Watson Lake hospital, with Venus Abou and Margaret Charlie of Liard First Nation Home Support, package an order of nutritious meals for Kaska elders. The meal subscription program is a partnership between the hospital and the First Nation. (Yukon Hospital Corporation)

They're at about 2,000 meals served  — and counting.

For the last few months, some Yukon hospital workers in Watson Lake have been preparing frozen meals in the hospital kitchen, to be delivered weekly to Kaska elders in the community.

It's a partnership with the Liard First Nation.

"Food security is not unique to elders, but elders certainly have challenges in getting nutritious meals on a daily basis," said Laura Salmon, director of First Nations health programs with the Yukon Hospital Corporation.

Venus Abou prepares a weekly delivery of meals. (Yukon Hospital Corporation)

"We know from reports from our partners, Liard First Nation, that it was a concern and they were trying to meet that need in a number of ways."

Salmon says the frozen meal program started just before Christmas when the hospital and the First Nation wanted to ensure people were looked after over the holidays.

 "We ... just had to kind of jump in with both feet, and just start cooking the meals," she said.

The program was well-received, so they're still at it.

An under-used kitchen

Meals are ordered by the First Nation at the beginning of the week, and prepared, blast-chilled and frozen by hospital staff in time to be delivered by the weekend. The First Nation purchases the meals at cost and delivers them to elders.

Meals include salmon with rice pilaf and vegetables, turkey soup and beef noodle casserole.

A key element of the program is the use of the Watson Lake hospital kitchen. Salmon says it's a well-equipped and spacious industrial kitchen that was typically used only to cook for relatively few hospital patients.

"So I think it's been on our minds for a number of years, how do we make the best use of this space and potentially have it be better used by community members?" Salmon said.

Gladys Meinema, a cook at the hospital, prepares some meals. A key element of the program is the use of the hospital's industrial kitchen. (Yukon Hospital Corporation)

"There was this untapped capacity that we had."

Salmon says there are now about 40 elders that regularly receive meals through the program. 

After the trial run in December, the elders were asked for input into the menu. Salmon says the meals are designed to be "comforting foods, familiar foods."

There is no wild game used in the meals right now, but Salmon says the goal is to make that happen sometime in the next year.

And even though the meals are frozen, she says they're anything but bland hospital food.

"The food has to be appropriate and comforting and delicious and of good quality. Otherwise, it's not really worth the energy," she said.

Written by Paul Tukker, based on an interview by Sandi Coleman

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