For as long as any member of the Veterans Foreign War Ladies Auxiliary can remember, group members have hosted a free senior citizen dinner on the first Saturday night of each month.
Last Saturday night was no different -- except that seniors came out in droves for the meal.
"Seniors don't leave anything out," Barbara Palmer said, who showed for the meal for the first time with her husband, Ralph. "If we would have waited much longer, there wouldn't have been any place to sit."
A menu of ham, scalloped potatoes, beans and cake lured 123 seniors Saturday from their residences to eat promptly at 5 p.m. at the VFW Post 4265.
VFW Auxiliary member Margaret Thompson said she has seen the number of diners reach 150, but that hasn't happened for a long time. Thompson and other group members were pleased with Saturday's turnout. Yet, some wondered whether seniors thought the idea of free meal was intended only for those who are hard on their luck.
"This gives the seniors a change and a chance to socialize," member Jeanne Wixson said. "The older you get, the higher the cost of living is. This isn't something that seniors should feel embarrassed about. It's about getting together."
Merna Dilldine said she and a group of four friends made it a tradition to attend the monthly dinner.
"We really enjoy our circle," she said. "The food always seems to taste good. It's homemade and simple, but it's good. We enjoy coming to this every month."
A raffle after the meal usually offers seniors homemade treats.
Though the VFW group has tried to initiate activities after the dinner, seniors rarely stay past 6 p.m., Thompson said.
"At their age, they just want to get home before dark," she said.
Thompson said there might be plenty of local activities for seniors to do, provided that they take advantage of the opportunities.
Sometimes seniors are hesitant to try something new, she said.
In addition to serving a free dinner for the past 35 years, the VFW group is involved in other service projects. Group members organize Craig's Huck Finn Days, sometimes provide meals at funerals and the nursing home, and offer a Christmas party for schoolchildren. They also provide a scholarship for high school students and give medical equipment to the hospital.
Bingo on Wednesday nights and Sundays provides revenue for the Auxiliary and men's VFW group to perform service projects. All of the proceeds, except the bingo winnings, go back to the community, Thompson said.
To get more seniors to come to the Saturday night dinners, which are held year-round except during some summer months, Thompson suggests seniors circle the dates on their calendars for the year.
"Some people think it's for people who are hard up, but it's not," she said. "For a lot of these people, this is the social event of the month."
Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.