Seniors Join For Lunch, Friendship At New Meal Site

Seniors gather together for ribbon cutting ceremony of Ocean County’s newest Senior Congregate Meal Site in Waretown. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  WARETOWN – While the pandemic created a physical threat to many seniors, it also created an epidemic of another kind. Many older residents became victims of isolation – and thus loneliness.

  Ocean County’s newest Senior Congregate Meal Site may well be the perfect recipe to enhance their lives. Approximately 50 people attended the ribbon cutting ceremony held at the Engel Sprague Senior Center, located at 239 11th Street, Waretown.

  Township of Ocean Mayor Ben LoParo thanked the crowd of seniors for attending the grand opening of the meal site. He also expressed his gratitude to the Ocean County Commissioners, singling out Commissioner Barbara “Bobbi” Jo Crea for attending the ribbon cutting ceremony.

  “The Ocean County Commissioners are funding these programs through grants,” shared LoParo. “The township was fortunate to receive a grant for $70,000, which is money well spent for the citizens of our town and surrounding towns.”

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Ocean County and Township of Ocean officials cut the ribbon at the new center. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  The program itself was subsidized by a $32,000 grant, according to authorities. The $70,000 grant was applied to the purchase of new chairs, tables, TV/cable and wi-fi access for the congregate center.

  According to Maria LaFace, Director of Ocean County Office of Senior Services, her office conducts a public hearing or needs assessment in early May each year to determine the most urgent needs of the senior population.

  “Since the pandemic, social isolation and food insecurity are on the top of our priority list,” said LaFace. “To meet this need, we sought to expand our social recreation and congregate dining programs and were fortunate to be able to partner with Ocean Township to expand their social recreation programs and to fund congregate dining for seniors in the area.”

   The opening of the congregate site in Waretown was planned in May in recognition of Older American’s Month, acknowledging the important contributions older adults have made to their communities, state and country.

  “Each year the Administration for Community Living (ACL – which is the Federal Oversight Agency for Older American’s Act funding) announces a theme for Older American’s Month to celebrate and honor older adults,” said LaFace. “This year’s theme is Age My Way – recognizing that older adults should be afforded the opportunity to age their way, in their homes and communities with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

  The Ocean County Office of Senior Services was established in the 1970s to serve as the Area Agency on Aging for the county.  The Office receives federal funding under the Older American’s Act to plan and implement a comprehensive and coordinated system of community-based services for adults 60 years of age and older. They also receive state and county dollars to supplement federal funds to meet the growing demand for services.

  As she walked around and introduced herself to people sitting at the tables, Crea’s face lit up with a sense of hope. She said that everyone seemed happy to be together.

  “It’s time to enjoy ourselves,” said Crea. “It’s time to put the past behind us and get out and have fun – and have a few laughs.”

  Many of the individuals gathered for the ribbon cutting ceremony seemed to agree with Crea as they also waited to see what was on the menu. One woman said she hoped they weren’t in for boxed lunches.

Menu items for the first meal at the Senior Congregate Meal Site consisted of ribs, potatoes and vegetables. (Photo by Stephanie Faughnan)

  The trays handed out to those in attendance included ribs, potatoes and vegetables and were prepared by Meals on Wheels. While $2 donations are suggested, the center operates on a no questions asked basis. Seniors potentially suffering from food insecurity can count on one hot meal a day – and company to go with it.

  “I am a member of the Silver Liners Club and heard about today from Jeanne Broadbent (Recreation Director) shared Leonard Migliara. “She gave a presentation about the site and made it sound very interesting. Jeanne said that we could come here and have a free meal, which was certainly an incentive.”

  Migliara said that he liked the idea of eating with other people, saying that it was particularly important especially for older people.

  Barnegat resident Jo Foi said she is in charge of the Silver Liners, which meets twice a month. The group does all kinds of things to keep active and Foi felt the idea of sharing lunch together would allow members to get together more often.

  Congregate meal participants enjoyed a further treat at the grand opening celebration as they went through a couple of rounds of BINGO. The first get-together appeared to be a successful time of sharing good company, meals and old-fashioned fun.