Seniors who come for lunch at the East Toledo Senior Activities Center are enjoying the joy of cooking…or more aptly, they’re enjoying Joy’s cooking.
Since March 3, the center is serving meals prepared in the on-site kitchen by cook Joy Fuller, which is getting rave reviews from the lunchtime diners.
Prior to that, lunch service was contracted by a national provider contracted through a grant from the Area Office on Aging. “Over the three years we were with that provider, our attendance dropped dramatically – some days we only had one to three come in for lunch,” said Mary Wolff, the center’s director.
“Not only was it evident by the drop in attendance that the seniors didn’t like the institutional-type meals, they were very vocal about it,” she said. “And on days when Brenda (Holden) and I would make meals here for whatever reason, we’d have a lot of people, so we knew there was an interest and a need.”
Late last year, when the Area Office on Aging opened up the bidding for the contract for the lunch program, Wolff applied for a grant, with the goal of preparing meals in the center’s kitchen.
“We felt we could have better control over the quality and variety if we made the food here,” Wolff said. “We’ve had a food license since I’ve been here. We also have a kitchen which, for nine years or so, we’ve been using for special events, parties, cooking classes, for our once-a-month evening meal and also to serve the meals that were brought in.”
After review, the Area Office on Aging awarded the senior center the grant, which includes a dollar amount per unit (meal served), and funds to pay for a cook who works 30 hours a week. “We only interviewed experienced cooks, and were happy to find Joy Fuller,” she said.
Wolff plans the menus using strict nutritional guidelines. “Once I get the menu planned, I have to submit it to the Area Office on Aging for approval, which, through all this has been very, very helpful and supportive,” she said.
March’s menu has included barbecue chicken breast, pork chop with cornbread stuffing, chicken pot pie and honey baked ham…with veal parmesan, roast turkey and baked tilapia still to come. A full soup and salad bar is also offered every day.
“The seniors want different foods, not the same-old, same-old options,” Wolff said. “For some, this is the only full and balanced meal they have in the day.
“That was my biggest driving force in making the switch to meals prepared onsite – they want and deserve better,” she said. “The staff also enjoys having the option of fresh food and the salad bar.”
Dennis Boerst, of Toledo, and his wife Pat, who have been coming to the senior center for 11 years, give the new lunch programs two thumbs up. “It’s really great since Joy is doing the cooking,” Mr. Boerst said, adding that he enjoys the variety. “Joy’s had some really nice soups; we had a Jiggs dinner on St. Patrick’s Day which was excellent and a lot of us are looking forward to the liver and onions tomorrow.”
Ron Ohm, of Toledo, agrees with Boerst’s assessment of the food – but not about the liver and onions. “I come every day – I think I started in 1990, when I retired from ODOT,” he said. “I definitely enjoy the new ‘home-cooking,’ but tomorrow, when we’re having the liver and onions, I’ll be eating the salad – it’s nice to have a choice.”
Just as the seniors enjoy Fuller’s cooking, she enjoys preparing the weekday lunches, and hearing the diners’ feedback.
“I love it – the people are wonderful – they’re jokesters and some of them are really funny,” said Fuller, whose experience includes 20 years working in the restaurant industry. “I recently graduated from the Toledo Restaurant Training Center and finished the training I started more than 20 years ago, when I had studied culinary, and then became a mom.
“This is a great opportunity and so far they seem to be enjoying all my food,” she said.
“We’ve only been doing this for two weeks; we had 25 people here on one day, but we’re expecting that once word of mouth gets out, we’ll see more,” Wolff said.
The lunch program at the East Toledo Senior Activities Center, which is open to anyone, is served Monday through Friday at 11:45 a.m. There is a suggested donation of $2.50 for those 60 and over and a fixed charge of $5 for those under the age of 60.
“We don’t ask the seniors for the money,” Wolff said. “There’s a container near the sign-up sheets; if they have the money, they put it in.”
Those interested must sign up 24 hours in advance at the center or by calling 419-697-9005. The monthly menu is available at the center or online by visiting the East Toledo Family Center’s website at www.etfc.org, clicking on the “Senior Center” tab and then “Daily Lunches.”
Transportation is available to seniors in the East Toledo/Oregon area. To arrange for transportation, call 419-691-2254.
Ron Ohm, of Toledo, a regular for lunch at the East Toledo Senior Activities Center, enjoys the new menu options being offered since meals are being prepared on-site.