A supermarket in the Netherlands is making a difference with its initiatives by responding to the disconnection in culture by honoring our elders.

Beautiful, yes? And research shows we need social connection now, more than ever.

The trend of letting customers scan their shopping items themselves and then pay at a self-service counter has an impact. We have less and less human interaction.

Welcome to advanced technology, which for some, means estrangement.

But at the Dutch Jumbo Supermarket in Vlijmen, the employees have a special lane called the “Chatter Checkout” to connect with customers. They also offer the “All Together Coffee Corner”, two initiatives that are going viral.

Research consistently shows that people suffer from loneliness. Human beings are social creatures and our ability to connect with others enables us to thrive and survive. COVID-19 has deeply altered our ability to connect with others and social distancing could have a long-term effect on mental health, especially for the elderly.

Studies show that more than 50% of people 55 years and older, experience loneliness. Loneliness activates a biological defense mechanism that impacts how our mind and body functions. Some research even shows that loneliness may alter cells impacting the bodies immune system to fight off infection and inflammation.

Loneliness has also been linked to the presentation of cardiovascular and major depressive disorder traits. An article in the Harvard Business Review, even points to loneliness being as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

The reason loneliness is considered a high-state of stress is because of our bodies’ “fight or flight” response. Being connected to others provides emotional safety and security. When feeling alone, our subconscious can sense threats in our environment, so our body goes into stress response mode.

“Chatter Checkout” is working. Established in 1921, Jumbo is the second largest Dutch supermarket chain, boasting over 60,000 employees and approximately 600 stores in the Netherlands. Jumbo has grown significantly in the last few years and some attribute that growth to their initiatives that honor our elders.

Research consistently points to the influence of social support and social interaction on all of us as social animals, helping alleviate the stress response mode for our elderly. Connection lowers depression, anxiety and stress and even lowers health risks such as blood pressure and Alzheimer’s disease.

The owner of the supermarket was touched and inspired to do something about the loneliness problem and created the initiatives.

The “Chatter Checkout” is the first of its kind. The special grocery lane is designed specifically for people who would like to chat during checkout and are not in a rush. And many of the cashiers are happy to participate. For some, it’s the highlight of their job.

The “All Together Coffee Corner” is run by Volunteers from the Alles Voor Mekaar Foundation.

The Foundation, which is fully dependent on local volunteers, has been bringing volunteers and the lonely elderly together for nearly two years now. The volunteers also help out by doing other chores, such as shopping, lending a hand in the garden, becoming a willing card game participant, as well as supporting various household fixing and cleaning projects. From minor plumbing repairs to hanging pictures, the volunteers are making a difference.

The volunteers added that they are making new friends, while deeply honoring our precious elders.

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