"For the seniors, it most probably helps to strengthen and reinforce existing relationships with one another and with the volunteers. Having caring relationships in their lives can contribute to their mental and physical health. They are more likely to be active, to feel understood and trusted by others. This can lead to other opportunities for civic engagement," said Matthew Kaplan, a professor of intergenerational programs and aging at Penn State University's University Park campus.
Henry Zerphey, 80, and his wife of 60 years, Arlene, 79, sat at the end of a long table surrounded by friends who laughed and joked through their dinner.
When the Mount Joy couple heard of the community supper program, they hesitated to attend because they weren't comfortable accepting free meals, he said. "They wouldn't take any money" for the dinners, he said of the church. The Zerpheys soon found a compromise and now donate to the church's food bank.
"I still feel guilty eating this meal," he said. "We come for the fellowship. These people are having a great time."
Jim Vogel, 88, of Landisville, lives across the street from the church and has been coming to the Thursday suppers since they began.
"It's just the getting together," said Vogel, a longtime member of the church. "You get to know people you've never seen before. It's so nice to meet these people."
The weekly visits keep him active and involved since his wife died two years ago. "It's nice to get out," he said. "It just seems like one big family."
Todd R. Weiss is a technology journalist and freelance writer who lives in East Petersburg, Pa.