Veteran Dickie Spirrizzi selects ingredients for a community meal
Residents of the VA Boston Healthcare System spinal cord injury unit have been fixing up some home cooking. Their shared meals are part of a program that develops community, incorporates nutrition education and focuses on creating healthy and wholesome dishes for Veterans living with spinal cord injury.
Veterans on the unit have been preparing their own meals regularly for close to a year. Recently, the program has taken a new direction by incorporating shopping trips. A group of Veterans are bussed to a local supermarket every other Friday morning where they purchase the ingredients needed for that evening’s meal.
“Grocery shopping is the next level we have decided to take with this group to really get them back into the community,” said Jessica Boutin, the VA Boston occupational therapist who created the program. “The goal was to give them an increased quality of life and to really help them function at their maximum potential.”
The Veterans welcome the opportunity to meet new people in an everyday environment. “It was so nice going to the supermarket,” said unit resident Patricia Thomas. “It’s been a long time.”
After shopping, the Veterans prepare the food. The unit dining hall becomes an extension of the kitchen as Veterans, staff and volunteers chop, peel, and mix the ingredients for a meal that feeds the entire group.
“I love the sense of community. It pulls everyone away from the everyday mundane tedium,” said unit resident Larry Berry. “There’s a lot of friendly banter and everyone gets a sense of accomplishment.”
“We’re making a chicken curry,” said resident James Wilcox. “We’re doing a group exercise where everyone pitches in and does what they’re able to do. After we put it all together, we end up with a very nice homemade meal. It’s a nice community activity, it makes a difficult situation a little less difficult.”
Boutin noted that the group “was inspired by people we have here that were chefs, some people that loved cooking prior to being injured. We wanted them to get back to that level of cooking again.”
“I have had an interest in cooking all my life,” said Berry. “The smells of the kitchen, the mayhem, there’s always mayhem when you get a bunch of people cooking, and I like that. I just wish we could do it every day.”
“I like the cooking, and I guess I like the eating too,” said Thomas.
About the author: The story was submitted to VHA’s Office of Digital Media by VA Boston Healthcare System Public Affairs Office
Photo by: Don Veitch, VA Boston Healthcare System Public Affairs