Community Columns

County senior lunch program needs more than stimulus

Some stimulus money coming into Stanislaus County is earmarked for "serving seniors in need of food" and for restoring lunch site and home-delivered service that has been cut. The money comes for just 18 months, though, so county officials want to be sure it is used in such a way that the meals can be cost-effective even after stimulus funds have been used.

The allocation, though eagerly received, is for just $111,845. With it, county Area Agency on Aging officials hope that programs in Salida, Denair and Riverbank might be resurrected. And they are looking for a site in the never-served eastern part. Nine active sites remain in Newman, Patterson, Turlock, Oakdale, Hughson, Waterford and Modesto.

Jill Erickson of the Area Agency on Aging is looking for help. "If there's a school or church -- or city or organization -- that could offer a meal site, we could help with what's needed to bring the place up to code, like a refrigerator or stove," she says. "We need to be able to continue."

Howard Training Center's Arc Catering has the local contract to prepare the lunches.

President Lyndon Johnson's 1960s Great Society program was implemented to offer not just fresh, hot food to anyone 60 or older, but also the chance for companionship. That companionship is important, county aging officials point out. The 2008 countywide Community Health Assessment found that

24 percent of the seniors participating in the survey checked "felt sad or so hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that (I) stopped doing some usual activities."

Says Erickson, "Depression can be a dangerous condition, especially for seniors who spend a lot of time alone."

Activities offered depend upon each meal site's management. In Newman, for instance, many people first attend an aerobic exercise class in the school-owned building where lunch is served. Others meet in the lunch room all morning to sew, knit or play cards.

Wednesday lunches at Modesto's Senior Center on Bodem Street are especially popular because they're followed by mostly first-run movies funded through the city's parks and recreation budget. On Fridays, bingo is big. Games and pinochle fill other mornings.

Music is a main attraction at the Hughson site, along with visiting and table-size puzzles that many work on together. Wednesdays, a country-western and gospel group plays from 9 a.m. till lunch. A monthly free lunch day funded by the Hughson Ministerial Association draws diners.

More than 1,100 people participated in the senior meals programs in March. At all sites and for the delivered meals, the suggested donation is $2. For more information about establishing or reviving a site, contact Margie Palomino, head of the Commission on Aging and Veterans Services, at 558-7825.

Brooks is a member of the Stanislaus County Commission on Aging and a community columnist. Write her at