PARAMUS, NJ – “It makes my day when a good pot of soup makes someone else’s day.”
That’s pretty much Teresa Gaspar’s motto in life, and it works well for her as Director of Culinary Services for CareOne Livingston where she gets to share her passion for food with the residents.
“Food is a choice we all have, and in a lot of ways, it’s the last choice we have,” Gaspar said.
The executive self-proclaimed foodie said she began working for CareOne in Paramus and then three years ago, moved over to Livingston. Prior to that, she worked for a large hotel chain.
“There was money and prestige in that position, but I wasn’t happy,” she said.
It wasn’t until she got to CareOne that she felt like she was home.
She began asking residents what they wanted for dinner, and instead of relying solely on a menu for the week or even the month, she would whip-up what they want for that evening’s dinner.
“I ask the residents and their families for their recipes,” Gaspar said. “And then I cook it that way. It makes things so familiar for them.”
One resident had stopped eating, but Gaspar’s food inspired her to go from 76 pounds to 102. “Your mom stopped eating?” she asked the family member. “Not on my watch.”
Gaspar said she enjoys the praise: “Your food is amazing, they tell me.”
And the families are extra happy when they see their loved ones with a fresh hair cut or shave, courtesy of Gaspar.
“Sometimes, that little bit of extra love and care makes the resident feel so good,” she said. “Add a good meal to that, and you have happy people.”
During covid when residents were confined to their rooms to prevent rapid spread of the virus, which has proved especially dangerous for seniors, Gaspar said she would pipe music through the halls and bring an ice cream cart around.
“I thought, let’s make every day the best day,” she said. “No gloom and doom here.”
Even when she had her own doubts at the beginning of the pandemic, she was able to get through it with support from her boss. “Less was known about the spread of covid, and I was ready to give up and stay home.”
It was after an 11:30 p.m. call with her boss one night that she changed her mind.
“I had all the PPE I needed: masks, gloves, shield. And my executive director, Marianne Alfano, was on the phone with me one night. It was very reassuring. She helped me to keep going. She said, ‘you got this’,” Gaspar said. “I needed that support. Where else do you get that?”
Gaspar likes to have special meals, on occasion, like banana pancakes for dinner, or hotdogs for breakfast, as she says, “just because.”
She also recruits residents who like to help and be a part of the dining experience. One resident organizes the flowers each week. Gaspar goes out and gets them their request. “I like giving them what they want, it’s their dining room.”
Gaspar said she never regrets her move from the corporate hotel world to CareOne.
“It makes a world of difference when you can see people are happy, you see their clean plates,” she said. “When I see that clean plate, I think, oh my God, I’m so happy.”
So, apparently, are the residents.