Meals fuel body, companionshipA Douglas County meal program aimed at seniors feeds many hungers. The elderly nutrition program, headed by Senior Connections, provides lunch to seniors age 60 and older – either delivered to their door or at congregate meal sites.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
A Douglas County meal program aimed at seniors feeds many hungers.
The elderly nutrition program, headed by Senior Connections, provides lunch to seniors age 60 and older – either delivered to their door or at congregate meal sites. A varied menu encourages them to try new things.
“Sometimes it’s their only meal of the day,” said Steve Westerlund, a volunteer at the Wentworth meal site. “If it’s their only meal, they’ve gotten a good meal. That’s the important thing.”
But, said his wife and fellow volunteer, Rose, “It’s more than just a meal.”
By sharing a word with the driver or stopping by a congregate meal site, the program feeds the need for human contact.
“It’s a social thing,” agreed Audrey Hakkila, Wentworth sub site manager.
Sitting down to the family-style lunch gives seniors an opportunity to visit with others.
“The socialization is absolutely invaluable,” said Rhoda Nagorski, director of Senior Connections.
During lunch Thursday, the Amnicon Senior Center was filled with talk and laughter. Long after the Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, gravy, bread and Jello had been eaten, they chatted. The discussion ranged from theology to politics; from memories of growing up to technology like webcams and DTV; from lutefisk to sauerkraut. They discussed a cheese factory that once did business in Iron River, Amnicon’s upcoming centennial and a predicted weekend snowstorm.
“It’s nice to see them visiting and having a good time,” said Hakkila, who has been volunteering with the meal program for 15 years. “They don’t just eat and leave.”
The site offers meals three days a week – Tuesday through Thursday – as well as frozen meals for the homebound to eat on Fridays.
“I come every day,” said Lloyd Brannan of South Range. His nephew, Raymond Johnson of Lake Nebagamon, is also a regular.
“He and I are alone,” Brannan said, with too much time to spend alone.
“I’d rather get out and talk to somebody,” he said.
The two discussed community outreach efforts they would like to see attached to the program – from providing government commodities and a food shelf to regular doctor visits and student performances. The site does offer bingo every Tuesday and Bunco on the third Thursday of the month. A nurse visits the site once a month to give free blood pressure checks.
In 2009, Senior Connections served 81,785 meals through the elderly nutrition program. Of those, 54,878 were home deliveries.
“I just wish more seniors would take advantage of it,” Westerlund said.
Numbers have decreased in recent years at many of the sites. Since the program began, two sites have closed – Maple and Parkland – due to lack of diners. Betty Prinz, who volunteered at the Lake Nebagamon meal site for 28 years, said numbers plummet there in the winter. But they rebound in the summer, Nagorski said. She also stressed that no current sites are in danger of closing.
Seniors may think the elderly nutrition program is only for those in economic need. A $3.50 donation is suggested for the meal, but people aren’t required to pay anything. Funding for the meals comes from the Older Americans Act and donations.
Dennis Bartholomew, a Lake Nebagamon volunteer, encouraged all seniors to give it a try, even if they could afford to go to a restaurant instead.
“Just by showing up, you’re providing part of the service to others,” he said.
Nagorski calls the well-balanced lunches “extra value meals.” She challenged local seniors to stop by the nearest meal site to experience a community lunch for themselves.
“You meet a lot of nice friends,” said Peggy Sislo, Wentworth site manager.
You could also develop an appetite for helping others.
“Many people go to the program to take advantage of the meals and end up volunteering,” Nagorski said.
Make reservations 24 hours in advance for congregate meal sites at 11:30 a.m. at Phoenix Villa, 1001 Clough Ave., Monday-Friday, 591-3553; Holy Assumption Parish, 5601 Tower Ave., Monday-Thursday, 394-7919; Amnicon Senior Center, Tuesday-Thursday, 364-2316; Solon Springs Community Center, Tuesday-Friday, 378-4546; Summit Town Hall, Monday-Thursday, 399-2311; Senior Center, 1527 Tower Ave., Monday-Friday, 591-0001; Lake Nebagamon Village Auditorium, Tuesday-Friday, 374-3101; Gordon Town Hall, Tuesday-Friday, 376-4683; and Kro Bar and Grill, Brule, Tuesday-Friday, 372-4985; and at noon Tuesday and Thursday at Northland Community Center, Dairyland, 244-3354.