Aging Support Services, OMI Senior Center

Adding A Little Spice of Life: Practical and Fun Virtual Cooking Classes for Seniors

by Catholic Charities – November 2, 2020

Andy Tien, Activities Assistant at Catholic Charities OMI Senior Center in San Francisco, noticed that a number of the 230 seniors who regularly arrive each Thursday at OMI’s outdoor Food Pantry were puzzled by such items as spaghetti squash they found in the pre-bagged fresh produce, frozen and canned goods they receive each week to help make ends meet.

Tien brought the issue to his supervisor, Liz Rodriguez, Program Director of OMI Senior Center, who encouraged Tien to start an online cooking class on Fridays to teach OMI’s seniors how to make recipes featuring the pantry “mystery” items they had gotten the day before. The overall goal, said Rodriguez, is not only to teach healthy new recipes but also to prevent OMI’s seniors from socially isolating: A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine cites robust research that social isolation among older adults significantly increases their risks of developing depression, dementia, coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer, among other life-threatening illnesses.

“We want to stay connected with our seniors, even when we can’t meet with them in person now because of COVID-19,” Rodriguez says. “Our idea for the virtual cooking class was one of several ways we are reaching out and connecting.”

Rodriguez knew Tien was an ideal person to help teach the cooking class along with Tiffany Huynh, OMI’s Activities Manager. Both good cooks, Tien and Huynh are also bilingual in Cantonese and English, the primary languages spoken by OMI Senior Center’s aging adults.

Tien had learned cooking in the restaurant and hospitality service industries after he arrived in San Francisco in 1989 as a refugee from Vietnam, gaining fluency in English watching the popular television sitcom, “The Golden Girls.”  Tien now has a hit series of his own with OMI’s virtual cooking class, engaging a loyal audience of seniors who logon to watch him whip up recipes using pantry items like tomato sauce, garbanzo beans, and winter squashes.

Tien recently demonstrated how to make both Italian and Asian versions of spaghetti squash – and received some rave reviews and photos of the meals seniors had prepared using his recipes. Reflecting on the success of the cooking class, Tien says, “to me, I’m grateful that I can help the seniors use the food pantry items so they’re not wasted. I feel happy that I can share my knowledge with a loving spirit.”

Besides the cooking classes, OMI Senior Center also offers a menu of other virtual classes throughout the week. These include “Chat with Tiffany,” a weekly support group; an exercise class to help seniors build strength, flexibility, and balance; and a computer class taught by Self-Help for the Elderly. OMI collaborates with another community partner to host the OMI Senior Choir, comprised of 44 seniors who virtually lift their voices in harmony each week to stay connected especially now during these challenging times when we need each other the most.

To learn more about how seniors are spicing it up with Catholic Charities or to sign up for one of our virtual classes, visit OMI Senior Center.