PORTAGEVILLE - "The nutrition center doesn't just provide a meal, it also provides socialization," said Kriste Martin, a member of the Portageville Senior Center Coalition.
Although lunch is the only meal served during the day, the Senior Center doors usually open from 8 a.m. until mid-afternoon, sometimes as late as 4:30. During this time, seniors play cards, put together puzzles and simply socialize. The center also holds birthday parties, blood pressure screenings and nutrition education, among other activities.
Kaye Kuntscher, area supervisor for the Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging, added that a PACE exercise class is held at the Senior Center two mornings a week. The center has a partnership for these classes with the Arthritis Foundation.
Kuntscher said the staff is quite attentive to their patrons. "If they miss congregate for the second day in a row, we go over and check on them," she commented. Home-delivery also provides this attention to seniors, who Kuntscher said may have to live in a nursing home if it weren't for the delivered meals.
Those receiving home delivery still receive the benefits of socialization. "If it weren't for the person who brought the meal, they might not see anyone else that day," Martin said.
A close relationship is formed between workers and those receiving the meals. Kuntscher shared her experiences of working with a blind woman who is over 100 years old. The woman lives by herself and is always sitting there waiting, not so much for the food, but for someone to talk to. "She would say, now I know what time it is," Kuntscher recalled. The woman always asks the volunteer to set up her meal and shares stories during the visit.
Although some workers are paid, several volunteers are also involved with the program. And Kuntscher said volunteers benefit from the program as well. "For some of the volunteers, it's all they have," she said. The women agreed more volunteers are always needed and emphasized that anyone who is willing to give their time can help.
Martin encourages young people to volunteer - the community service looks excellent on a resume and also gives youth the opportunity to learn more about another generation. "The older person loves the younger person," she added.
Although Martin has no professional ties with the Senior Center, she said she was glad to help when asked. She works with community leaders to offer support and ideas to the local center. It is all worthwhile to her. "There's a lot of people out there who need help."
Nutrition centers provide daily lunch for people who are over 60 years old and their spouses. These meals must meet one-third of the Recommended Dietary Allowances for a day. Home delivered meals are available for seniors assessed by the local senior center staff as homebound.
About 100 people are served each day at the Portageville Senior Center, according to Kuntscher. During the winter, emergency meal packs are also provided in case of inclement weather.
Lana Johnson, nutrition project director for the Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging, elaborated on the benefits of receiving a balanced diet. "For every $1 invested in nutrition programs, $3.25 is saved in health care costs," she said. Malnutrition is linked to higher morbidity and mortality, increased functional dependence and higher rates of hospital readmission, which result in higher health care costs.
According to Johnson, Southeast Missouri has the largest nutrition center project in Missouri. Other centers in our area include Puxico, Dexter, Scott City, Chaffee, Sikeston, New Madrid, Charleston and East Prairie.
The federal government provides about 50 percent of the funds needed to operate nutrition centers. Money received does not reflect the number of patrons served, but a combination of factors including the total elderly population, total low income factor and total low income minority, according to Johnson.
The remaining funds come from donations. A suggested contribution amount is posted at each center, according to Kuntscher. However, no one is denied a meal if they are unable to contribute.
Fund-raisers are also held throughout the year. A pancake breakfast will be held Sept. 11 from 7 to 11 a.m. at the Portageville Senior Center, 105 East Main. For more information about fund-raisers and the Senior Center, call (573) 379-3811.