My golly, you’ve got to hand it to them. The Senior Center in Vista’s luncheon staff has made a bare-bones dining room into a pleasant place to lunch and socialize. With pretty patterned placemats and napkins and inexpensive centerpieces, they have made economical ambiance. With round tables seating eight to 10, service by senior volunteers is fast and relatively easy.
The food? For those who, like us, prefer a substantial meal at noon, it’s wholesome and tasty. For those seniors who like salad and soup, that’s always an option. Best of all: the cost for those over 60 years of age is $3.50. Under 60? The tab is $6. We paid by putting our “donation” into a box in the lobby and since the real, unsubsidized cost is about $5, that’s what we put in the box. We still had a $10 lunch, our budget ceiling.
This hot lunch program is supported by Older Americans Act funds, awarded through San Diego County Aging and Independent Services and the city of Vista. Nearly 70 to 100 seniors take advantage of the meal daily. A notice says nobody is turned away for lack of funds. Another 100 to 200 meals are cooked and delivered.
Back when Letty was single, she ate at the Senior Center almost daily, and had samples of nearly all the good meals the hardworking cooks create. Five staff members man the kitchen, and at one time “they made more than 800 lunches a day,” according to volunteer Betty Bowden who has been at the center for 34 years. Since the program began the year before she volunteered, she qualifies as a real expert. As she remembers, Gloria McClellan was instrumental in getting the lunches started and administered so that many meals are served and many more delivered daily.
“Don’t confuse that with Meals on Wheels,” Bowden added. “That’s another program.”
Each month, a committee plans the menus, then prints them so the public can decide what days to patronize. The printout is available in the lobby of the original center. Here is a short list of the menus for this month: Roasted chicken in mushroom sauce with rice pilaf, French vegetables, buttered beets, and tropical fruit for dessert. The soup and sandwich crowd had tuna salad and vegetable soup. Battered fish fillet with potato wedges, cole slaw, roll, and peach-raisin crisp. Taco salad and tortilla soup were the option. Other days saw chicken pot pie, pork shank with gravy, and even on Dec. 23 a Holiday Buffet with ham, asparagus, scalloped potatoes and optional chicken.
Here’s a real plus: Entertainers of all stripes and ability perform on the stage above the dining area. On Thursdays, it’s veterans Glydell Knight and Don Waters on the piano and horn; on Wednesdays it’s Leona Puckett on piano, etc. When Letty was a regular (and there are many) the piano was venerable, to say the least, and not very tuned. Nobody minded.
Her experience was that the lunches were a great boon for seniors who lived alone and struggled financially. The sociability and the nutrition kept them going for years and years. And kept them coming back.
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