Seniors across county stay engaged at Living Well Cafes

May 30, 2019

Senior citizens have seven sites in Merced County where they can go for a daily meal, fellowship, activities and get tips on living healthy, productive lives.
They can visit the Living Well Cafe.
Operated by the Merced County Human Services Agency's senior program, Living Well Cafes can be found in Merced, Atwater, Livingston, Winton, Planada, Dos Palos and Los Banos.
Between 110 and 135 people are served every day at one of the sites, according to Chris Bobbitt, program manager with the Area Agency on Aging operated by the Merced County Human Services Agency.
"They can come and have a nutritious meal, enjoy companionship and fun activities, including bingo," Bobbitt says. "For those who aren't homebound, socializing is a big emphasis, a key component. They can talk and chat with each other."
For some who live alone, it may be their only contact with other people that day.
"When selecting a name for our Congregate Senior Nutrition Program, our former Human Services Agency director, Ana Pagan, strove to ensure that the name encompassed the program’s goal of serving mind, body and spirit; The Living Well Café fit the bill beautifully," Bobbitt says.
Open every day from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday, Merced's Living Well Cafe at 851 W. 23rd St. hosts 40 to 60 people a day. Some people come five days a week regardless of the meal. And meat loaf is one of the more popular entrees.
Bobbitt says an annual anonymous survey of participating seniors shows they are happy with the food, how the centers are operated and make suggestions for improvement. They have made a number of changes including more color in the meals and different menu selections.
On the surveys, seniors said they enjoy the activities such as classes, bingo, coloring and the speakers about food topics. Others said since they are on limited income they like the price.
One senior participant said she liked how she feels welcomed and the attention all the people are given. With another person, the sharing of time was valued.
"For some living alone, this is their only contact," Bobbitt says. "There is a thing called 'food insecurity.' We don't want people worrying where their next meal is coming from."
The suggested daily donation is $2 but Bobbitt says no one is turned away. Participants range from age 60 to near 100 years of age.
The Living Well Cafes were launched five years ago. Arts and crafts activities were introduced three years ago. Paint by numbers paint kits, birdhouses, flower pots, knitting and crocheting activities are part of the creative outlets offered.
The monthly activity calendar for Merced's site shows arts and crafts painting, low-impact aerobics, movie days, word search puzzles, bingo, a nutrition class, Tai Chi videos, a crochet class, and a Karaoke birthday celebration. Each site makes its own activity calendar for the month.
The Senior Brown Bag program is conducted the second and fourth Friday of the month in Merced, at 7:30 a.m. Operated by the Merced County Food Bank, everybody gets one grocery bag full of staples. including rice, spaghetti, peanut butter, snack items, some kind of bread, pasta, spaghetti sauce, cans of soup and fruit juice.
During the holidays, a three or five-pound ham is provided. A Senior Farmer's Market nutrition program gives seniors five $4 coupons they can redeem at Certified Farmers Markets in Merced and Livingston.
Bobbitt explains Our Lady of Mercy School students come once a month and sing for the seniors, also presenting them with homemade cards.
A public health nurse is assigned to the program and once a month provides educational programs on physical health improvement possibilities — and ways to keep the mind healthy.
The county contracts with the Merced County Rescue Mission for the meal program. The mission provides the site coordinator who works four hours a day. Each location has a steam table and refrigerator with workers trained in food safety and first aid.
The county contracts with Minnesota-based Taher Inc. to prepare hot food items. The Merced College cafeteria is used. The county also contracts with a registered dietitian to prepare nutritious and appealing meals.
Spring, summer, fall and winter meals are prepared. Stews are added for fall and winter meals and summers include sandwiches and seafood salads.
Turkey and pumpkin pies are Thanksgiving additions, with ham for the Christmas season and corned beef for St. Patrick's Day, according to Bobbitt.
"We try to mix it up and give variety," she says.
The Rescue Mission conducts one fundraiser a year, this year a Halloween Bingo Bash on Saturday Oct. 19 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Senior Community Center on West 15th Street. Tickets are $10 for a hamburger, drink and bingo card with all money going to support the senior nutrition program. Typically about 240 people attend the event, now in its third year.
Besides the Merced site on 23rd Street, Living Well Cafes are at Atwater United Methodist Church, 2550 Linden Ave., Atwater; Dale Hall at 931 Center St., Dos Palos; the Livingston Senior Center at 420 Main St., Livingston; the Miller-Lux Senior Center at 830 6th St., Los Banos; the Planada Community Center at 9167 Stanford St., Planada; and the Winton Community Center, 7091 Walnut Ave., Winton.

Doane Yawger of Merced is a semi-retired newspaper reporter and editor.


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