A FEW MONTHS ago, Laurie Medlicott and Paula McNees looked around the community center and realized they had a problem. Twelve people had made reservations for that night’s Senior Meal. Nine had showed up. Three regulars were out of town, they knew, but the numbers still were discouraging.
McNees recalled thinking, “This is where OlyCAP bailed out,” referring to the meal’s former sponsor, Olympic Community Action Programs.
So they started cooking up a plan to entice more diners to the table.
This week, Medlicott, McNees and Ken Dane, the third Senior Meal musketeer, are starting a two-pronged campaign to reach more seniors, with the goal of keeping the program going by keeping it growing.
For starters, they are posting menus at four apartment complexes that cater to seniors but don’t have food service — Claridge Court, Marine Plaza, Admiralty Apartments and San Juan Commons.
The main course: a shuttle service to pick people up and take them back home, which they are working with Jefferson Transit board members to get rolling.
“We already have a name for it — the Supper Special,” Medlicott said.
Offered four days a week, Senior Meals is run by community volunteers and is not government-subsidized. The only requirement: to be 55 or older, although no one is carded. People are asked to make a reservation the day before (360-385-9007) and pay $3 to $5 to cover costs.
Senior Meals is a community collaboration — in addition to volunteer cooks and servers, Safeway gives Medlicott a discount on food, and the Port Townsend Noon Rotary donated funds to replace some old kitchen appliances.
Medlicott cooks Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Wednesdays, the “Bad Boys” — Ruffin Le-Brane and John Goepferd’s name for their kitchen duo — offer their take on ethnic entrees, including Creole — Ruffin is from New Orleans.
There are other theme nights — Italian, Greek or Asian — along with traditional home-style cooking. Holidays bring in more people — on St. Patrick’s Day, about 30 came for the corned beef, McNees said.
McNees is dining room manager, aided by Sande Fast and volunteers, who set tables, serve and clear. Dane, who was in doctoral program at Harvard, is the dishwasher. Medlicott recruits the kitchen prep and clean-up crew — Jeff and Stephanie Boyle work two days a week. In all, it takes 24 people per week to serve the meals, Medlicott said — a crew of six times four evenings.
“We feel that this is an important service to the community, and we all find it incredibly rewarding,” Medlicott said. “We could serve more people.”
But the average attendance is 15, and there’s been attrition — they’ve lost three regulars this year, Medlicott said, so the three organizers would like to build the numbers up.
“Our goal is to have 25 people all four nights,” Medlicott said.
Many of the regulars live or work close by. Roger Reichersomer, owner of Puffin Shoe Repair, walks over from this shop on Lawrence Street after work. Bill Mason rides his bicycle from his home at the upper end of Lawrence, while his neighbors in the complex, George and Helen Prindle and Sandra Vinje, walk or ride, depending on the weather.
“It’s like a time warp, like the ’50s, when neighbors were neighbors,” Vinje said of their complex. “This is part of that.”
Twice a week, Scott Wessels goes to Claridge Court, where his mother, Phyllis Bowden lives, and they ride the bus to the community center. Ruth Hara comes every day, she said, usually with Mary Webb. Patty Crutcher brings her neighbors, Ron and Irene. Other regulars are Dee Rice, Darrell Shipman and John Reeves. Another regular, Wendy Johanson, leads songs for sing-along night, which is Thursday.
“She’ll take an old song we all know and change the lyrics to fit a holiday,” McNees said.
One diner, Ruth Reandeau, has ties to the community center that precede the existence of the building — she raised money to help build it. She also worked in the Port Townsend school cafeteria for 19 years, so knows what providing a hot meal means to people who might not take the time to prepare one.
She also knows why people don’t come — they think it’s welfare, she said, which it’s not.
The former sponsor, OlyCAP, gets funding from the Older Americans Act through the Olympic Area Agency of Aging to provide congregate meals in Clallam and Jefferson counties. But meals at the Port Townsend Community Center and the Brinnon Community Center were discontinued last year when numbers dropped too low to make it feasible to pay a cook at those sites.
That’s when Carla Caldwell, UGN director, recruited church and community groups to bring in a meal at the Port Townsend site and serve it until a new sponsor could be found. First up were volunteers from First Baptist Church and St. Mary’s Catholic Church, then the Port Townsend Noon Rotary, to which Medlicott belongs. Realizing that the diners were expecting a full meal, not the soup and sandwiches the Rotarians brought, Medlicott volunteered to take over as cook and meal planner.
The fire and police departments not only volunteered to help serve but also took up a collection and provided enough money to buy food for a month of meals, Medlicott said. They also bought the food for the Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners.
“They really saved this program,” Medlicott said.
McNees, a bookkeeper, answered a call to help out from Eleanor Stickney, the PT Senior Association manager.
Servers work four afternoons, 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., and are welcome to eat afterwards if there are leftovers, McNees said.
As part of the outreach effort, McNees, Medlicott and Dane are putting up posters advertising Senior Meals around town.
Menus are also posted in the front hall of the Port Townsend Community Center, 620 Tyler St. Each meal includes beverages and dessert. If you call and make a reservation today, you can be sitting down Thursday to stir-fry, rice and egg rolls, with sherbet for dessert.
And everyone who eats at Senior Meals helps keep the food on the table.
Senior Meals are sponsored by the Port Townsend Senior Association.
For more information and reservations, phone Stickney, 360-385-9007.
Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or email email@example.com.