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Front Page » January 10, 2008 » Carbon senior scene » Meal time, senior style
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Meal time, senior style

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Carbon Senior Center personnel prepare meals for delivery and for serving to seniors in the cafeteria located just off the kitchen premises.

Everyone has had a cafeteria meal at one time or another. Most of the time the food is doled out with impersonal patience and little contact.

But for those who lunch at the Carbon senior Center, there is a lot of love and caring that goes into the process.

And the company is good too.

"You know when we serve these lunches the nutrition we are providing is important," says Debbie Kobe, the director of the county's senior centers. "But the social factor that people find here is almost as important."

While the center often serves more than150 meals a day to seniors and others who want to eat there, many people in town see the center as an old folks' place.

"We have people who are 90 and they say that coming here for lunch keeps them going," stated Kobe. "We also sometimes talk to people who have never been here that are in their 80's and ask if they want to come to lunch with us. Many of them say 'that place is just for old people.' But we serve many people of all ages and we are getting more because as people age they start to come in."

The meals aren't free, but for what one gets they are reasonable. For seniors over 60 years old the suggested donation is $3 per meal. For those below 60 the rate is $6.25. But the center doesn't turn any senior away, that's why they call the money contributed by those who eat there donations.

Carla Gallegos loads meals into a delivery truck for home delivery to those who can't make it to the center.

"On average we serve about 63 people a month who are not seniors," said Kobe. "Some of our seniors always pay, others pay what they can. The average donation from seniors is $1.36 per meal.

Obviously what the center charges for lunch doesn't support the program entirely. Beside paying for the food the center must also pay the employees who prepare it, for maintenance to the facility and for the equipment it takes to prepare the meals. Much of the cost is supported by various entities with the biggest contributor being the county.

"I went to a meeting of senior center directors across the state and found out that we had more support for our senior center than almost any other centers had," said Kobe. "I was almost embarrassed because the others talked about lack of support and we have such great support here."

Not only do the county commissioners give the center the bulk of their funding, but Price City also contributes. Other sources include federal funds and of course the donations those that eat there contribute.

And that support is also a key to the good meals that are served at both the Price and East Carbon senior centers.

"We are one of the centers in the state that cook our food on site," stated Kobe. "Many other centers have it cooked in other places, such as hospitals and then send it out to the centers. Then it is rewarmed. Ours is freshly cooked."

The center provides plenty of nutrition to the county each year. In 2007 the two centers included 93,364 meals. The peak month for meals was March when 8516 meals were served. The lowest month for meals was, not surprisingly, December 6657.

But not all those meals were served at the centers themselves. Depending on the day and the time of year, each day between 150 and 175 meals are taken out to seniors and others who can't make it into the centers for lunch. Meals on Wheels is a godsend to many of those people, and it is more than just about bringing food to people's houses.

In Carbon county three drivers divide up routes in the county each day. One has East Carbon while the other two split Price in half with one serving the western part of the county (Spring Glen, Helper, etc.) and the other taking the east side of Price and the Wellington area. Drivers are often there for what is called "friendly visits" or ones that help seniors with a myriad of problems.

"Our drivers are multipurpose," said Kobe. "For instance one lady had clothes in her washing machine but couldn't lift them to put them in the dryer. Our driver did it for her."

Bonnie Bell looks on as Kathy Levanger closes up the oven in a van and gets ready to leave for her delivery route.

Meals on Wheels drivers can also spot when a senior is in trouble, and have probably saved a few lives over the years as well.

"In many areas of the state many of the people who work at the senior centers are volunteers," stated Kobe. "But in our case, because of generous support we have employees who are well trained and dependable."

Seniors who have meals delivered to their homes must qualify for the service by talking with Bonnie Bell who heads up the food service division of the senior center.

"All they have to do is call me and I can give them the information they need and we can see if they qualify for the service," she said.

But the emphasis on the food program is to present good nutrition to the seniors within a friendly atmosphere. Each day there is something going on in the cafeteria, whether it be a birthday meal (which happens once a month to celebrate all the birthdays that month) or some other kind of event.

And the senior center also provides delivery to the tables for those who can make it to the center, but can't stand in line at the serving area.

In some ways, lunch at the senior center is like a party every day with "youngsters" in their 60's mixing with people in their 90's.

Some days the room in the cafeteria runs out and Kobe worries what will happen as the program continues to grow.

"And parking is becoming a real problem too," she says. "Sometimes we have cars parked everywhere during a big lunch day."

With the oldest baby boomers retiring this year and the growth in retirements Kobe expects the program to get bigger year after year.

For some of the seniors, lunch at the center recalls days of school lunch and sitting with friends each day to eat the noon meal.

But they also say they are glad they don't have to go back to class afterward.

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