Every week day Turlock resident Richard Ackerman makes his way to the Turlock Senior Center for a nutritious lunch, and the opportunity to talk to a few new friends. On Friday, he and others enjoyed pulled pork sandwiches, along with a hearty serving of fruits and vegetables — all made available to Ackerman and other Turlock seniors courtesy of the United Samaritans Foundation’s Senior Lunch Program.
“It’s just like a home-cooked meal,” Ackerman said. “I’m a bachelor and don’t cook much, so here I can get at least one nutritious meal a day.”
Formerly hosted by the Howard Training Center at the Salvation Army in Turlock, USF took over the Senior Lunch Program in July after being approached by the Stanislaus County Area Agency on Aging and has since provided over 600 meals to community members over the age of 60. The program not only offers dietician-approved meals for seniors who may struggle with income and mobility, but also gives them a place where they can socialize and be connected to other services that may be of use to them.
“We want to make sure that they’re getting a well-balanced, enriched diet,” USF Grants Writer Dana McGarry said. “Being able to do it means a lot to them and to us, and it pulls at your heart strings.”
The program is funded in part by the Federal Older American Act, which seeks to improve the lives of senior citizens, particularly in the nutrition field. Meals are served from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday (save for the second Monday and the third Friday of each month) and are prepared fresh each morning courtesy of USF cook Amanda Daniels.
“She’s such a good cook,” Betty Casey, who stops by daily to dine at the lunch program, said. “Everything’s fresh and she makes sure it’s warm or cold, whatever it needs to be. It’s really good food.”
“I love my job, I really do. My favorite part is visiting with the seniors,” Daniels said. “I love hearing their past, their history.”
Seniors that dine as part of the lunch program can also bring their spouse of any age to eat as well, and while the program attempts to target older adults who are isolated, live in rural areas or have limited income, there is no income qualification for the senior lunch program. There is a suggested donation for eligible participants of $3, however, contributions are voluntary and participants may donate at their own discretion. Those under 60 must pay the full cost of a meal at $5.50.
In addition to food, the program provides seniors with the opportunity to volunteer by serving lunch to others, as well as enrichment activities; for example, next week, seniors will be treated to a Halloween visit from Sacred Heart preschoolers on the hunt for candy. McGarry and the rest of the USF team also work to make seniors aware of other services like the nonprofit’s emergency food boxes, clothes closet and the Daily Bread Lunch Truck.
“Anything we can do to make sure that they’re getting both the support and the services they need and they’re entitled to, we want to provide that,” McGarry said.
There are currently about 30 seniors that are signed up for the Senior Lunch Program, but a large chunk of that group does not regularly attend because they either still work or cannot find transportation to the Turlock Senior Center, McGarry said.
“One of the things that we’re also seeing as a need is transportation,” McGarry said. “A lot of seniors have either given up their car or they’ve given up their license.”
USF is working to see if a bus pass program can be developed for those who can’t afford one, and McGarry hopes to see a bus stop placed closer to the senior center eventually. As of right now, the closest bus stop is four blocks away, she said, leaving some seniors with both mobility and transportation issues unable to attend the luncheons. One senior makes the bus trek often, which takes him about 45 minutes.
The lunch program — and ensuring seniors have equal opportunity to attend — is vital not only in Turlock, but throughout the nation, with 58 percent of participants reporting that the meal provided is one-half or more of their total food for the day, according to the Administration on Community Living. 76 percent of participants believe their health has improved as a result of the lunch program, and 77 percent say they eat healthier overall thanks to the program.
“It’s important to me because then I don’t have to worry about cooking myself,” senior Shirley Sarnowsky said. “Sometimes I have stuff at home to cook but sometimes I don’t, so this really helps.”
For more information on the Senior Lunch Program, call the Stanislaus County Senior Information Line at 209-558-8698 or United Samaritans Foundation at 209-668-4853. Reservations are required at least one full day in advance of a meal to ensure an adequate amount of food, so to reserve a meal call the Turlock Senior Center Lunch Program staff at 209-480-5170.