“By giving just half an hour of your time, you can bring people so much joy”

“By giving just half an hour of your time, you can bring people so much joy”

Students help combat loneliness among older people with Oma’s Soep

23-01-2024 · Reportage

“Tomato and courgette soup, how delightful”, says 97-year-old Mrs Van den Brule, standing in the doorway of her flat with a bright smile. “Some nice soup to keep you warm in this cold weather” is written on the paper bag she has just received from Geertje Janssen, a Biomedical Sciences student. She doesn’t waste any time putting its contents in the fridge. “Would you like to come in for a chat?”

It’s Janssen’s first time delivering soup to this address. Even though the two have never met before, they quickly become engaged in deep conversation. Mrs Van den Brule talks about how she met her husband, her life during and after the Second World War, and all the places she has lived. She also opens up about losing her husband, who suffered from dementia, and how you lose more and more friends and family as you get older.

In other words, the conversation touches on loneliness. And that’s precisely why Janssen has come here this Thursday afternoon. Besides Mrs Van den Brule, more than twenty older people in Maastricht will receive a visit from one or two students today. They’ll bring soup, but, more importantly, they’ll provide companionship for a bit. It’s an initiative of the Oma’s Soep Foundation, which sells soups and microwave meals in supermarkets across the country. Profits go towards activities to combat loneliness among older people, organised by student boards in various cities. The foundation has been active in Maastricht for three years, with a student board organising Cooking Days in care homes (making soup and playing games together) and events like Christmas lunches. And the almost weekly Soup-to-Door Day, like today.

Set a limit

For this activity, the Maastricht board uses the kitchen of the student association Circumflex every week, including this Thursday morning. “We get to decide what to cook”, explains Eline Bruinenberg, a board member and Medicine student, as she stirs a large pot. “We get our vegetables for free from a stall at the Wednesday market. In return, we bring the stall holder a cup of soup at the Friday market.”

Three students walk in who are volunteering for the first time. They receive their routes for the day on their phones, along with photos of the people they will be visiting. “Aw, this lady looks so cute”, one of them says. “But what are we supposed to do, exactly? Should we stay and talk?” Yes, if they invite you in, says Bruinenberg. “And they usually do. Many of them look forward to our visits; they’ll often be waiting for you. They’re lovely people with a lot of stories to tell. Sometimes you need to set a limit for yourself and decide you won’t stay longer than half an hour. If you don’t, you’ll end up spending the whole afternoon on their couch and running out of time to visit the others.”

Phone buddy

About twelve students are delivering soup today, each visiting two or three addresses. “We have a core group of 23 older people we visit weekly”, says Janssen, who is also a board member. “We’re not currently looking to increase that number, although we’d love to help more people. But we would need more students to deliver soup, and they’re difficult to persuade. After volunteering one time, however, they’re usually convinced. It opens your eyes to how much joy you can bring people with just an hour of your time.”

Leila Zimmerman, a Medicine student who has just entered the kitchen, agrees. She recently became a “phone buddy” to 82-year-old Mrs Lampen, whom she first visited a year ago. “After that, I spent six months abroad. But when I brought her soup again recently, she remembered everything about me. Since then, we’ve been in touch every week. Her family lives on the other side of the country, so she doesn’t have a lot of people around her. Still, she’s very positive, which I admire. And she has so much life experience – I’ve learnt a lot from her. ‘You still have your whole life ahead of you, enjoy it’, I am often told. It keeps me grounded.”

Back to Mrs Van den Brule. She gets out her iPad (“You have to move with the times”) to pull up photos of Oma’s Soep Christmas lunch one year ago. “Look, here’s me and Emma. This year, I couldn’t make it due to a fall, so I called Sophie.” After a pause, she says, with a smile, “I’ve gotten to know so many students.” As Geertje Janssen leaves the flat, she is asked to repeat her name. No doubt Mrs Van den Brule will remember it.

 

Photos: Observant

Tags: oma's soep,soup,loneliness,older people,elderly,volunteers,volunteering,students,instagram

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