Program provides meals, social interaction

At the senior citizens' lunch in the Sunset Meadows cafeteria, the coffee flows freely and the dishes get passed around the table family style.

On St. Patrick's Day, more than 70 seniors came to dine on corned beef and cabbage, with apple pie for dessert -- all for $2.25 a plate.

The most affordable meal in town is also one of the best, patrons say.

"They have wonderful cooks and they sure know how to fix a meal," said Marie Davis, a 77-year-old regular at the lunches.

Davis has been visiting Sunset Meadows to eat lunch with her peers for about three years. She enjoys the food, but the social interaction is especially appealing.

"You get to know a lot of people. It's like a big family here. You get acquainted and make friends. These ladies here," Davis said, introducing the two women beside her, "I usually sit with them every day."

The Moffat County Housing Authority oversees the meal program, which serves reduced-rate lunches to seniors at noon five days a week. Another branch of the program, called Meals on Wheels, delivers the food to homebound seniors for an extra quarter.

The revenue doesn't cover the cost of running the program -- the to-go containers cost 35 cents by themselves -- but it wasn't set up to be a moneymaker.

The mission is to provide one hot, nutritious meal a day to seniors in Moffat County, said Keith Antonson, the executive director of the Moffat County Housing Authority.

Janette Harris is the office manager of Sunset Meadows Building I, where the meals are hosted. Harris said the reduced price of the meals is sorely needed by many of the seniors who buy the lunch.

"Most of them are on very limited incomes," Harris said. Some citizens live on a couple hundred dollars a month, Harris said.

Aside from the benefit of a hot meal for seniors who may be unable to cook for themselves, the program serves another purpose, Antonson said.

A very important side benefit is social interaction.

"It's more than a meal," Antonson said. "The conversation and social interaction they receive while eating is highly beneficial. It's immeasurable what a social context can do for seniors and their health."

The Housing Authority has discussed a concern that many seniors may not be aware of the program, Antonson said. And there is always room for more diners in the Sunset Meadows cafeteria. Seniors don't need to be residents of Sunset Meadows to partake in the lunches.

Some seniors have a tendency to withdraw from society and isolate themselves, Harris said. The meal program aims to draw them out and offer a healthy social environment.

For those who can't leave their homes, Meals on Wheels delivers food daily. There too, Antonson noted a benefit not directly related to the meal.

"At times, our driver acts as a check on a person on a daily basis," Antonson said.

When delivering food, the driver has a chance to converse with homebound seniors, observe changes in their health and offer a little social interaction.

It's especially helpful for elderly citizens who may not have any local family members or a support network, Antonson said.

The senior citizen bus shuttles some participants to the cafeteria daily. It also delivers meals to seniors within a five-mile radius of the city. Seniors must be at least 62 to qualify for the reduced rate. The kitchen staff likes to know who is showing up by 9 a.m. each day so they know how much food to prepare. For more information, call 824-3911.


Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com

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