By Stephen Allen
Upon moving to Condon, a friend asked my wife and I if we would like to go to “senior lunch,” a nickname for the Senior Meal Site that serves lunch every Thursday at The United Church of Christ.
At first, we thought they were joking. Having turned 40 not long ago, I thought it was an over the hill prod. “It’s some of the best food in town,” they assured us.
We went a little reluctantly, expecting dry meat and boiled spinach. Were we ever wrong.
That day, we ate braised chicken, mashed potatoes, garden salad, pasta salad, soup, a fresh fruit salad and chocolate cake. For $6, it was unbeatable. For seniors, it is a suggested donation of $4. We learned a lesson that day: Whether you are young or old, on a limited budget or not, the Meal Site is the place to go for a good meal.
The Meal Site is a fixture in Gilliam, Wheeler and Sherman counties. Every week, cooks churn out delicious food and locals (mostly seniors) socialize and catch up. In Condon, Arlington, Fossil, Mitchell, Spray and Moro, the Meal Site is a central part of people’s lives. Many travel to the Meal Site on senior transportation provided by Wheeler, Gilliam and Sherman counties. For some, it is their big weekly outing. For others, a casual gathering spot that is part of the weekly routine. But one thing is certain: The Meal Site is much more than a place to grab food. It is a core part of the community.
With the closure of all dining establishments from the Coronavirus, the meal sites stopped serving food in dining rooms. But instead of scaling down their services, Meal Sites rose to the challenge and pivoted to help seniors and other community members in their time of need.
Now, instead of driving people to the Meal Site, staff deliver meals to the people.
And it is not just food that is in tow. It is normal that staff and volunteers bring medicine and mail. They have passed out locally made face masks and information about COVID-19. Recently, the Gilliam County Senior Meal Site even helped to get information to people about the US Census, making sure people had received their packets and knew about its importance.
Gilliam County Senior Services Coordinator Sabrina Wagenaar oversees operations and is happy that the Meal Site is there to help those who need it. “It’s been really good, volunteers have showed up” to help get things done Sabrina says and they are hoping more people will volunteer.
On Thursday deliveries, Sabrina or Shania Drinkwine ride shotgun as Marla Davies drives. “Sabrina did deliveries for years and knows all the best routes,” Marla says. The two are quick and efficient in their routes. Only stopping to admire flowers in people’s yards and to briefly talk with people who are picking up their food that has been left at the door.
Although staff and volunteers cannot interact with their patrons as they are accustomed to doing, Meal Site leaders and volunteers are able to brighten people’s day, give them a healthy meal and a little human interaction (from a distance) that many sorely need.
The Meal Sites are abuzz with activity as food is being cooked and bagged up in to-go containers. In Condon, 75 meals are being delivered each Thursday. Newcomer Andrew Pippin is Head Cook. Andrew recently joined the team after moving to Condon this winter. Andrew is the chef at the Condon Elks Lodge.
In Arlington, 40 meals are being delivered each Tuesday. Head Cook Kathy Covey typically served 25 meals or less each week at the Meal Site. With the COVID-19 scare, people were encouraged to stay home and to get a good meal delivered and many more are doing so.
In Sherman County, the Senior Center is delivering between 84 and 126 frozen meals every Monday, to seniors in the county who are house-bound and unable to get out to grocery shop. “Each recipient receives 7 frozen meals delivered to their house each Monday morning,” says Senior Center Director Kari Silcox. “This ensures they are getting at least 1 hot meal each day of the week.”
In Wheeler County, restaurants have stepped up to provide meals for seniors. The Dig In Diner, the Korner Café in Fossil and the Service Creek Stage Stop are providing to-go orders for seniors free of charge once a week.
The creativity and perseverance that Senior Meal Site staff have shown is inspiring. You can get involved and help as a volunteer. Consider reaching out to the meal site in your area to get involved, brighten someone’s day and get a good meal to boot.