Seniors welcome the return of in-person meals

By Published On: August 7th, 2023

Richard, left, and Jimbo chat while eating lunch together at the Meals on Wheels dining room at Center 50+. In-person meal service resumed earlier this year after being postponed for three years during the pandemic.

Marion Polk Food Share’s Meals on Wheels program is more than just a meal. For homebound seniors and adults with disabilities who receive home delivery, the program provides friendly visits and valuable safety checks that allow them to continue living independently in their homes and communities.

Meals on Wheels’ service extends beyond home delivery, however. For several years, the program offered in-person communal lunches at Center 50+ and the South Salem Senior Center. The weekday meals provided the opportunity for seniors to gather over a meal and socialize.

When the pandemic arrived, in-person meals were ended and replaced with a curbside pick-up program for people who aren’t home delivery clients. Three years later, lunch service has returned to the dining room at Center 50+, and is drawing a crowd of seniors grateful for the opportunity to rebuild social connections and meet new friends.

Judy, left, Meals on Wheels Dining Room Manager, shares a laugh with Laurine during a community lunch at Center 50+.

Laurine is among the diners who is again a regular at Center 50+ after being a daily attendee before the pandemic. Having a place to go to be social and talk with people her age is just as important as the meal, she says.

“It’s something we look forward to. You get to share your life experiences and what you’ve done, and hear what they’ve done,” she says. “Being together is so important, it’s a wonderful thing.”

Another longtime regular, Greg, shares that sentiment. Coming to Center 50+ every day to meet up with friends was something he looked forward to every day before the pandemic, and he’s grateful for the opportunity to do so again after several years away.

“I know a lot of people our age are pretty much home alone,” he says. “It’s not just the food, which is an attraction, but it’s a chance to come together.”

While many diners like Laurine and Greg were regulars before the pandemic, some are newer to the area and are glad for the opportunity it provides to meet new people. Many people are engaging in other activities at Center 50+ and enjoying a meal before or after a class. One diner has enrolled in a writing class at Center 50+ and uses the stories of her dining partners as inspiration for her work. Others enjoy coming in for a meal after working up an appetite beforehand in an exercise class.

“I just finished a stretching class, so I’m starved!” says Joyce, drawing laughs from her fellow diners. “Everybody is pretty cheerful, and it’s really nice to see smiles and people willing to visit and share.”