Ventura seniors must find a new recipe to continue meal program

(Above) Dan Bitker is among a handful of seniors who enjoy a hot lunch at the Ventura Community Center each day.

by Marianne Gasaway

The Ventura Senior Citizens Meal Program at Ventura has lost its financial support, but the community is attempting to hold onto the service through donations.

For the past 39 years, lunchtime meals funded by the Elderbridge Agency on Aging have been prepared in Ventura.  The 50 to 60 meals were then served locally, as well as transported to Britt and Kanawha centers.  But according to Robert Ammann, director of Healthy Aging for Elderbridge, the decline in the number of meals served in Ventura in recent years necessitated the closing of that meal site July 31.

In true, small town fashion, residents of Ventura are rallying to keep the lunchtime meal service going.  Presently, meals are being prepared using private donations of food and money.

“They have kept this program going for a great many years and plan on keeping the meal program going for our seniors,” said City Clerk Else Taylor.

Monday night the Ventura City Council discussed the senior meal program and offered continued free use of the Ventura Community Center, including utilities, a dedicated phone line, storage room for supplies and kitchen equipment.  However, Council members do not favor using city funds to hire cooks and purchase groceries for local meals, according to Taylor.

Barb Ward, who was employed by Elderbridge to coordinate the lunch program at Ventura, said about $1,000 is needed monthly to cover the costs of the cook, who works 25 hours per week planning meals, shopping for groceries, preparing meals and doing cleanup.

On a typical weekday, eight to 10 seniors are served lunch in Ventura.  Carryout meals are currently prepared for two seniors unable to drive to the community center.

Ward, who took over the program two years ago from longtime cook Cindy Fistler, said at one time attendance at Ventura was 20 to 30 seniors daily.

“Attendance has been growing again and people are enjoying the meals” said Ward, who thanked Mary Schroeder for filling in as cook while she took a leave of absence.  “It’s a good social time for seniors, as well as an opportunity for a hot meal.  This is certainly a more healthy option for those who are on a fixed income or do not have the ability to prepare meals like this.”

Ward said she hates to see the local program discontinued, but said the reality of raising funds for a cook is a challenge.  She seems to be in agreement with Taylor, who said the Ventura Senior Citizens group will likely need to “reinvent itself” to continue to offer a meal program.

Ammann, from Elderbridge, said the Clear Lake Senior Citizens Center has agreed to prepare meals for Ventura seniors, however those at Ventura must find the way to have them transported and served at Ventura.

At one time the Ventura Senior Citizens group was overseen by board and club membership supported extra activities like holiday parties, exercise programs, organized walks and games at the site in addition to meals.

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