Senior lunch programs bring communities together

While the people who live in Madison County are spread few and far between, many of the elderly residents in the community are brought together each week by senior lunch programs designed to offer them an affordable, well balanced meal as well as a chance to get together and visit with friends and neighbors.

Although most people don’t often take the time out of their day to sit down and enjoy lunch, senior citizens are often faced with just the opposite, having all the time in the world and not much to do. And for those who live alone, preparing a full meal for one or two people can be a difficult burden. So when they have a chance to meet up with friends and sit down for lunch, the food itself becomes secondary to the social aspect of talking with folks around town on a daily basis, and nobody knows that better that Ennis resident Dianne Keller.

For 28 years, Keller has been preparing senior lunches at the Ennis Town Hall every Tuesday through Friday. On average, about 25 people come to eat and visit with their peers around town, and for those who can’t make it, the program offers to deliver meals to them. The program asks for a four-dollar donation per meal, and people give what they can.

“There are a lot of senior citizens here in Ennis and Madison County, and a lot of them are alone,” said Keller. “I think it’s very important.”

Just over the hill in Virginia City, Jacqui Marotta enjoys a sandwich with two friends at the Virginia City Creamery. After they finish eating, they each enjoy a scoop of chocolate ice cream as they sit and visit with each other. Marotta says the senior lunch programs are a great networking tool for elderly residents to stay connected with each other. If nothing more than a welcome opportunity just to get out of the house.

“You find out what’s going on in the community, so you have an opportunity to go to those events,” she said.

The Creamery offers senior lunches for $3 starting at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday and Thursday for anyone over the age of 60. For owner Mark Weber, the lunch program offers a chance for him to visit with the handful of year-round residents in the small historic town that thrives in the summer but is pretty darn quiet in the winter.

“There is a lot of visiting going on, catching up with the gossip and all of that kind of thing,” Weber said of the lunch program. “I’ve got five or six tables in here, but when they come in they’re all one.”

“I think these people getting together just kind of takes some of the winter blues away,” he added.

At the Senior Citizens Food and Service Center in Sheridan, local elderly residents have been showing up to enjoy lunch and each other’s company for 35 years. Head cook Shirley Talbott serves between 35 and 40 meals Monday through Friday, and approximately 15 of those are delivered to people who can’t make it into the senior center for various reasons. The center asks patrons for a $3.50 donation for their meal and $4 for deliveries, but anything and everything is appreciated. The dining room area seats up to 28 people, but often folks come in just to chat even if they aren’t hungry.

“That’s half the reason they come in is for the social aspect,” said Talbott. “It gives them something to get up for, it gives them a chance to visit with their friends, have a good solid meal and that sort of thing.”

Just down the road at the Wagon Wheel in Twin Bridges, the kitchen stays busy on Tuesday and Friday with a similar program serving senior lunches. Going on four years now, owner Wanda Osborne serves more than a dozen meals on average to local seniors, and the Twin Bridges Senior Community Center delivers to a handful of those who are unable to come to the restaurant. The menu varies throughout the week with the option of a soup and salad bar, and donations for the meals are given to the Senior Community Center.

“Some of the gentlemen who are widowed or don’t really want to cook for themselves have the option to go have a different meal that is economically feasible for them on a fixed income,” Osborne said of the senior lunch program.

“And it’s kind of a social event because they get to chat with their peers, and most of them show up forty-five minutes to an hour early before lunch and they all sit together and have a conversation. That was part of the purpose,” she continued.

“They seem to enjoy it, so that makes it worth while to me.”

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