Posted by & filed under Inner West Independent.

A senior citizen initiative has recently celebrated its eighth birthday with a flurry of music and chocolate cake.

The Royal Oak Hotel in Balmain hosted the birthday of the HOPE Luncheon series on Wednesday, April 18.

Around 70 senior citizens packed into the restaurant, with music provided by a three-piece classical group from the Sydney Metropolitan Orchestra and slices of celebratory chocolate cake on offer.

The series, which stands for Healthy Older People Eating, began in 2004 with the goal of providing a once-monthly communal meal in the Leichhardt area for senior citizens.

Leichhardt Mayor Rochelle Porteous, who spoke at the event, said the lunches are held at several restaurants in the area and provide a means for people to meet and network.

Anne-Marie Carpanete began attending the lunches when they had first started. At the time, she had just moved from the North Shore into Leichhardt.

“I didn’t know anybody and that was a good way of meeting people,” she said.

“We’ve lost some members through ill-health, but we’ve recruited a lot of young ones,” she added.

About four years ago, Ms Carpanete was ill with cancer and said the lunches provided a good avenue for support.

The event emerged through the collaboration of Sara Graham, nutritionist Carol Gano and Valerie Joy, who worked with Leichhardt Council.

Ms Graham said the intention was not only to provide healthy, nutritious meals but also to reduce the isolation of many senior citizens.

“Older people don’t have enough people to talk to,” she said. “We’re always trying to get people to bring other people with them who may be a bit isolated.”

She also said the event’s social aspects have increased in importance, while the nutritional concerns have become less prominent.

Keith Pulham, a member of the independent committee of volunteers who run the series, said finding new venues for the lunches is difficult.

Many venues are too small to accommodate the required numbers and there are also cost factors.

“Restaurants generally are having a bit of a lean time, the margins are small. And to ask them to put on a meal for $20 to $22, three courses with all this stuff thrown in, is not easy,” he said.

Ms Porteous and Ms Graham said the proprietors likely achieve only a small profit margin from the event.

The series has attracted the attention of other municipalities, with similar events established in Marrickville and Warringah.

Though it does not offer direct funding, the Leichhardt Council supports the series through providing administrative support.

By Dominic Dietrich