Every Wednesday and Friday, Shelia Allen, 68, arrives at the board room at the Indian Hills General Improvement District building in Indian Hills and starts a pot of coffee.
“Most of the volunteers get here at 11 a.m. and then lunch is brought in at 11:30 a.m.,” she said. “But I’m always here early.”
Twice a week, Allen, a Douglas County Senior Services Center volunteer, leaves her house “just down the street and out the back gate” to set up chairs and tables and anything else that needs to be done to prepare for the day’s lunch, officially known as the North County Nutrition Program. But unofficially the senior lunch program is much closer to a club that gets together to enjoy each others company, play games and visit with their neighbors, Allen said.
“This program gives me a reason to get up on Wednesdays and Fridays,” Allen said. “I know there are some seniors who never get out except to come here.”
For about six months, seniors in north county neighborhoods have enjoyed the social camaraderie and good meals closer to home without having to drive to the main center in downtown Gardnerville for lunches, according to John Lufrano, general manager of the Indian Hills General Improvement District.
“We started off with only five, six, seven people and now we get an average of 30 people,” Lufrano said.
According to volunteers Kathryn Clark, 64, and Christine Buch, 74, it was about two years ago when they and some of their neighbors got together to solicit the Douglas County Board of Commissioners to begin a lunch program in the north end of the county.
“My reasoning (for the lunches in Indian Hills) was seniors don’t like to come out of their comfort zone,” Clark said. “So we should have sublets in every neighborhood that provide programs for seniors.”
Another obstacle for seniors in north county was driving to the downtown Gardnerville senior center, Buch said.
“Originally I was driving people in carpools all the way to town for lunch,” Buch said. “A lot of seniors don’t like to drive that highway.”
“That’s when we talked to Travis,” Buch said.
Travis Lee, Douglas County Senior Services and Public Transit Manager, said it was recommended by commissioners to begin having public meetings to see what programs were available to the community and what could be added.
“We had some listening sessions with seniors in north county who said that they wanted to create a lunch program in Indian Hills,” he said. “After some more meetings we were able to get the go ahead from the Seniors Advisory Council, and John (Lufrano) was able to provide the board room at his building for the actual lunches.”
“We begged, pleaded and cajoled and it worked,” Buch said. “And it was well worth the effort.”
Lunches and game times are mostly implemented by volunteers, Lee said.
“We have one part-time staff person who assists with the senior lunch programs but in order to run the program volunteers are necessary,” Lee said.
Allen and Linda Manatad, 73, started coming to the lunches for the meals and social aspect of the program, but soon asked if any more volunteers were needed.
“I told my significant other, ‘Dale, we ought to go to these lunches,’ and when we came by I asked the girls, ‘Can I help?’” Manatad said.
Both Allen and Manatad live in the same neighborhood where the lunches are served and Lee said that proximity has added to the programs popularity.
Like Clark said, most seniors do not like the long drive into Gardnerville and prefer to see their neighbors instead of people they may not know from other parts of the county at lunches, Lee agreed.
Betty Gert, 65, also volunteers twice a week.
“It’s so funny, but my whole neighborhood is here,” she said. “I’ve gotten to meet people and learn new things like knitting and crocheting from a woman who teaches it. And her name is Marilyn just like my sister who likes to knit. It’s like having my sister here.”
Staying involved and engaged with community and neighborhood is important to the seniors who attend the lunches and is why the program has become so popular in six months, Lee said.
“This is their program and we’ll go up to speed with the seniors,” Lee said. “We want the program to be successful but we don’t want it to grow so fast that friendships don’t have time to form.”
And friendships do seem to be blossoming among neighbors.
“When I was sick for a few days, people noticed,” Clark said. “They came to my house and brought me lunch. They called me.”
Allen wants to see the program grow. She said she tells all her neighbors about it.
“I want more people to come,” she said. “The more people who come, the more people we can help.”
Lunches are held Wednesday and Friday with games and socializing beginning at 11 a.m. and lunch served at noon at the Indian Hills General Improvement District building at 3394 James Lee Park Road. Lunch is $2 for seniors 60 and older and $3.50 for people 60 and under. Beginning March 31 lunches will be $3 for those 60 and older and $5 for those 60 and under. For more information, contact 783-6455.