Semcac Senior Dining seeks more diners from community; Spring Grove site in danger of losing congregate status

By: 
Jordan Gerard

Semcac Senior Dining is looking for mouths to feed and people to socialize for its weekly meal program.

The 20-year long program at the Spring Grove site (American Legion Post 249) is in need of attendees, or else it could lose its congregate status and be reduced to Meals on Wheels only, Site Coordinator Naomi Bjerke said.

“It’s a program that is available to anyone in the community ages 60 and older,” she explained. “We ask for a recommended donation of $4 to $7 per meal. We don’t turn anyone away.”

Alternatively, diners can also purchase a punch card with five meals for $17.50 or $32.50 for non-eligible members. 

The only requirement for qualifying to eat is age 60 and older, though younger diners can attend if they pay the higher side of the donation for the meal.

“Semcac is associated with it and has the food shelf in Caledonia, and people often think we’re [senior dining] just for low income people that can’t afford a meal, but that’s not the case at all,” Bjerke said. “We wouldn’t be able to continue without the people and donations.”

People can also pay for their total meals at the end of the week too, she added. They can also pay what they can, when they can if paying is an issue.

Not only is the program a good place for older folks to get nutritional and balanced meals, it also provides a socialization aspect that can be hard to get on their own.

Bjerke said the most well-attended day of the week for the Spring Grove site is Thursday because chair volleyball is played. The game was brought to Spring Grove by Doris and Sanford Morken, who play the game at their community center when they winter in Florida, Bjerke and Carolyn Friesse explained at a council meeting earlier this month.

“People from all abilities can come and play. We’ve got one individual with Parkinson’s, one in a wheel chair and they come and play with us and they’re the best players on the teams,” Bjerke said. “They love it. They have a great time.”

On Tuesdays, Spring Grove Fitness Center manager Brandon Bergey comes to the site and does chair exercises with the group. Except lately that number has been down, which is affecting the site’s statistics too.

“We need awareness of the program to get more people to come and eat with us so we don’t lose the congregate program,” she said.

Spring Grove’s congregate status allows the site to host events like chair volleyball, exercise with Bergey, theme days, birthday parties and more events. If they lose the congregate status, only Meals on Wheels will be delivered from area churches that participate in the program.

La Crescent and Mabel currently have senior dining sites, and once upon a time, Lanesboro and Houston did too, but due to declining numbers, those two sites are Meals on Wheels only.

“Spring Grove to me personally is important because Spring Grove has an aging elderly community, but they’re the foundation and pillars of what Spring Grove is today,” Bjerke said. “They raised generations of family members in town. It’s important to give back to the town and what it is today.”

She adds there are more than 80,000 senior citizens in the country and a lot of them suffer from a lack of nutrition. The program provides at least one balanced meal to seniors that may not be getting nutritional needs, Bjerke explained.

What’s more is the socialization aspect of the program. Even if chair volleyball is not played every day, one important aspect of a congregate site like Spring Grove is mental health.

“It’s a prominent problem amongst the senior population,” she added. “What we’re trying to do is have a place for seniors to get a nutritional meal, be part of something, get socialism and combat loneliness.”

Attendees need to call the site by noon the day before they plan to attend and order their meal. Bjerke said she always tries to order an extra meal, just in case.

The site is open at 10 a.m. and meals are served at 11:30 a.m. The site stays open until 1 p.m. Call 507-498-3385 to reserve a meal.

Diners are also encouraged to bring family members and friends to the lunch. Ideally, the program needs 15 to 20 diners a day to keep the program as a congregate site. Currently, they’re only seeing about five diners a day, with the exception of Thursdays.

Events

Coming up is a fundraiser on Saturday, Dec. 14. Bjerke is looking for local crafters or vendors who would be part of a holiday bake and craft sale with an auction. Vendors are asked to make a donation for their spot.

The event will be in the Legion front room from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. that day. Lunch will be served with hot and cold beverages. Donations for the bake sale and auction will be accepted until Friday, Dec. 13. All proceeds from the sale and auction will support the Spring Grove site. To take part in next Saturday’s event, contact Bjerke at 563-202-0925.

Later in the month, a Christmas party will be held on Dec. 17, at 10:30 a.m. Little Lions Preschool and the Spring Grove High School Senior Choir will sing songs for the diners. 

Diners are invited to bring a family member with them. The meal will include all the fixings of a holiday meal, which Bjerke said is a good portion of food.

Another fun event during the month is celebrating birthdays. Birthday parties usually take place on the second to last Thursday of the month (week three or four).

Bjerke said the site is also looking for sponsorships from local businesses that would be willing to pay the $4 for a senior to come and dine free for their birthday. The sponsorship is tax deductible, she added.

Needs

The site is also in need of equipment to provide a better experience for diners, such as a cordless phone and answering machine so diners can leave messages to reserve their meals.

The next need is one that requires a small council willing to help out. Dec. 5 will be the first meeting of the site council, headed by Bjerke.

The site council will help plan activities and designate funds in the site’s sunshine fund. Two types of donations are accepted: dining experience and the actual site to host events.

“I’m looking for business people and active people willing to join the site council,” she said.

Bjerke said she’s also looking for feedback from diners on what they would like to see for activities.

“We’re not a soup kitchen, we’re not just for low income people,” she said. “The only requirement is 60 years or older and we don’t turn people away. They pay what they can, when they can.”