Senior Center serving higher-than-ever numbers |

Senior Center serving higher-than-ever numbers

by Merrie Leininger, staff writer

For some of Douglas County’s elderly residents, the senior center on Meadow Lane in Gardnerville is their only source of hot meals and contact with other people.

This Thanksgiving, the staff of the senior center is thankful they can provide at least that to the ever-growing senior population.

The meals on wheels program they provide has delivered 8,181 more meals this year than last and the dining room has seated 2,452 more people than the year before. The meals on wheels program delivered 859 more meals in October this year than the same month last year, more than double the increase from October 1998 to October 1999.

How is the senior center coping with these ever-increasing numbers? With a smile.

“We are thrilled to death at this kind of growth. We all pull together. It is possible because of the teamwork of a great staff,” said senior center Director Warren Bottino.

“The work gets done. I don’t know how sometimes. We are working harder and faster. We are still able to serve seniors. I think (the growth) has only just begun,” said head cook Tammy McComb. “People tell me all the time this is like a gourmet meal and it is only a $2 donation from people over 60 and $3.50 for everyone else.”

The Young at Heart group helps out the kitchen staff by setting up the dining room every day, leaving McComb and the three part-time cooks to do what they do best.

The group also handles the Home Companion and Homemaker program, which sends housekeepers to those who want to continue to live at home, but can’t keep it up as they used to.

Young at Heart President Esther Hildebrand said the Meals on Wheels program also helps the elderly stay in their homes.

“Meals on wheels is very important. Sometimes, that’s the only meal some of them will eat all day. I know some people who eat only half of it at lunch and save the rest for later. Without that meal, I don’t know what they would do,” she said.

McComb said because the delivered meal sometimes does make up the majority of calories the residents get, she has to make sure it meets certain guidelines, while staying within budget.

“Because it could be their only meal of the day, it meets one third of the nutritional requirements of a day. A lot of them have a hard time cooking. They may only have a bowl of cereal for dinner,” McComb said.

Bottino said because of the increased demands, the kitchen does sometimes have to get creative.

“I have to have different delivery dates so everything doesn’t come on the same day. It helps free up space. It’s a little crowded in there,” McComb said. “I plan meals a month in advance. When I order food, we get things from the USDA. I’m staying within budget by utilizing more comparison shopping. We get a lot more USDA surplus because we just have to pay shipping. There is zero waste in the kitchen. Everything gets used.”

Nevertheless, McComb said on her wish list is more storage and more refrigerator and freezer space.

“I can only order so much because I need the space,” she said. “The other day, I found this really good deal on meat and I have to hurry up and grab it because others want it, but I couldn’t take it all because I didn’t have room for it.”

Besides the main dining room, hot meals also go out three times a week to the TRE branch senior center and on Fridays, meals on wheels delivers a frozen dinner and bag of salad for the weekends.

Bottino said the center is looking at delivering food to residents of the Stateline area and is in the beginning stages of planning to open a dining room at Kahle Community Center for hot lunches.

The lunches are served every weekday at noon and Bottino said on certain days, like the recent Veteran’s Day celebration, they served 178 lunches. The dining room’s capacity is 180, just one of the reasons they look forward to the possibility of a community center.

“It’s just good for them. They are often home alone,” McComb said. “This lunch is as much social as anything. Some people help to make it a little more special. For holidays, the meals on wheels lunches may include a cupcake. St. Gall’s and others also make little treats like centerpieces to make them feel special.”