Retirement Lifestyles: Senior center meals provide more than just food

Published on Thu, May 6, 2010 by By Tara Nelson

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For many seniors and community members who frequent Blaine senior center’s daily lunch, the meals are not just a way to satisfy nutritional requirements but also a way to connect with friends and be part of the community.

Senior center coordinator Dana Hanks said part of the mission of the center’s meal program is not only to make sure low-income seniors in the community get their basic nutritional needs met but also to provide an avenue of entertainment and social interaction for those who might otherwise be eating alone.

“Our meal program is not only designed to provide nutrition but also socialization and a way for local seniors to get out of the house, be part of the community, get some entertainment or make friends,” Hanks said.

And with events featuring local speakers on a variety of topics from senior health and safety to Elvis impersonators and canine chiropractors, the Blaine senior center is keeping things lively.

This past Wednesday, about 30 local residents enjoyed Mexican food, the breaking of a pinata and photos of a local doctor’s recent visit to Mexico.

“We try to bring in speakers or entertainment to get people in and provide entertainment for our local seniors and or anyone else for that matter,” said senior center coordinator Dana Hanks. “Part of the great thing about this program is there are activities for people that connect them with other people. The fact that it’s not just about the food is one of the most compelling things about the program.”

Pam Relay, a nutritional director for the Whatcom County Council on Aging, agreed.

“That’s the important thing about the program is a lot of people at that age live alone and a lot of people who live alone don’t cook for themselves,” she said. “Food is a very social thing and sometimes if we’re alone, we don’t feel like cooking. At the senior center, you can come and eat with friends and get some social interaction so it helps keep people involved in their communities, which means they’re probably living healthier, too.”

Relay cited a study by the National Institute of Health that found that seniors who are properly nourished have lower risk of medical and surgical complications, a decreased rate of falls and fractures, faster heatilng rates and, on average, have hospital stays that are half that of a senior without adequate food or nutrition.

Between the center and the Meals On Wheels program, the Blaine senior center provides about about 170,000 meals a year to local seniors.

The programs, however, rely heavily on volunteer efforts. Relay said about 83 percent of the staff of the programs at each of the sites are volunteers. “We have basically one paid staff at each of the site and the people who serve and deliver the meals are volunteers, so we wouldn’t be able to do the program without people volunteering to help,” Relay said.

The Blaine senior center serves about 35 meals each day. Each meal costs about $6. About a third of that cost is paid for through a federal grant distributed between Whatcom and San Juan counties through the Whatcom County Council on Aging. Another third comes from grants or fundraising as well as matching funds from the St. Luke’s and Harvest foundations. The rest is paid through donations and fund drives hosted by the center. The center also delivers meals through Meals On Wheels program to people or seniors who are housebound either permanently or temporarily such as those recovering from surgery.

“These programs are vital because some people are having to make choices between prescription drugs and food,” she said. “The longer people are able to stay in their homes the better because the cost to feed one person through the nutrition program for a year is equivalent to a two-day stay in a skilled nursing facility.”

Those who are interested in volunteering with the Blaine senior center meal program can call Relay at 733-4030, ext. 47025.