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Good Friends. Good Food.

THE DETROIT LAKES SENIOR CENTER gives its seniors a choice of three different meals each day.1 / 4
Meals on Wheels volunteer Dave Eidenshink, greets a baby after delivering lunch to the Small Blessings Day Care facility in United Methodist Church in Detroit Lakes. He delivers meals to the day care every Monday.2 / 4
Each meal served at the Detroit Lakes Senior Center is designed to provide one-third of a person's daily nutritional needs.3 / 4
LAKE PARK SENIOR DINING serves fresh-cooked meals every Monday through Friday at noon in the Lake Park Senior Center. The dining site serves about 12-16 people each day, plus another 10 to 12 Meals on Wheels clients.4 / 4

The local senior citizen's center is more than just a place to get a hot meal five days a week.

It's a place to enjoy companionship, good conversation or a lively card game -- and occasionally take part in other activities as well.

Hot, fresh-cooked noon meals are served at the Lake Park and Detroit Lakes nutrition sites five days a week, Monday through Friday.

Other congregate dining sites in the county, including Frazee, Audubon, Ogema, Osage and White Earth, offer hot meals anywhere between one and four times a week.

Meal prices are based on the client's age and ability to pay -- though payment is not required, "they're all willing to pay the suggested amount," said Brenda Seley, site manager and cook for the Lake Park nutrition site.

"Some buy tickets (for 10 meals each), some just pay when they come," she added.

To help keep food costs down, those interested in taking part in a meal at any of the senior nutrition sites are encouraged to call ahead. If they have to cancel, they are also asked to let the site manager know ahead of time.

"Occasionally, we have some left over, but not a lot," said Seley.

Menu choices are pre-determined by Nutrition Services, Inc., based in Herman, Minn., which is contracted to provide meal service to all the nutrition sites in Becker County.

Each meal is designed to be well balanced and provide one-third of a person's daily nutritional needs. All meals also include a beverage, bread and dessert.

"I sit down and eat with them when I can -- the food is good," said Seley with a smile.

Attendance at the Lake Park site averages between 10 and 12 people, while the Detroit Lakes site has an average daily attendance of between 20-25 people.

Because the only paid help at the nutrition sites are the site managers and cooks, the rest of the work is done entirely by volunteers.

"Our program depends upon volunteer help -- they're awesome," said Seley.

"We're always looking for more volunteers," said Arlie Shodean, who serves on the DL senior council with his wife, Luetta.

Volunteers for the dining site don't need to be over age 60, added Carolyn O'Connell, who co-manages the Detroit Lakes site along with Margaret Curtis.

Detroit Lakes maintains its own senior center, located in the lower level of the Historic Holmes Theatre on Summit Avenue, while Lake Park's nutrition site shares space with the city, inside the City Center.

Meals on Wheels

Both the Detroit Lakes and Lake Park nutrition sites offer Meals on Wheels service to homebound clients who live within driving distance of the nutrition sites. The Meals on Wheels programs in Lake Park and Detroit Lakes, as well as other outlying communities in Becker County, are entirely dependent upon volunteer drivers to serve their clientele.

The Lake Park Meals on Wheels program serves clients in the Lake Park, Audubon and Cormorant area, while Detroit Lakes' program serves the outlying communities of Cormorant, Richwood, Frazee and Vergas, as well as its own. Frazee offers congregate dining once a week as well.

Hot meals are also delivered from the Detroit Lakes site to daycare programs at the community center and Small Blessings, as well as to the Pleasant View, Silver Birch and Marigold apartment buildings, which offer congregate dining programs three days a week.

Meals on Wheels also offers frozen meals to its clients on weekends and holidays, noted Margaret Curtis, who has managed the DL nutrition site since 1994.

The Detroit Lakes site was recently able to expand its service area through a bequest from a former Meals on Wheels client, who donated enough to pay the drivers' mileage for the next 10 years, said senior council member Blanch Hein.

"The (Meals on Wheels) routes vary from 30 to 60 miles a day," said Hubert DeMartelaere, one of the regular drivers for the Detroit Lakes program. "Sometimes, it's 70 (miles)."

If the client doesn't come to the door when they knock, the driver will notify the nutrition center, who "will follow up and make sure they're OK," he added.

DeMartelaere said he volunteers with Meals on Wheels because "I just enjoy coming in here and meeting all the people."

"Sometimes that's the only contact these people (Meals on Wheels clients) have with others," said Doris Jacobson, a member of the senior council in Detroit Lakes.

"I like going up to the door and saying hi to them," said Meals on Wheels driver Jean Sperry. She and her husband Harry "do a lot for our program here," said Carolyn O'Connell, who co-manages the Detroit Lakes site along with Margaret Curtis.

Other activities

Sperry brings her Nintendo Wii to the Detroit Lakes site on weekdays, for anyone who would like to play, and she also teaches a Bone Builders class through Mahube Community Council.

Sperry said she will offer the class to anyone who shows up at the DL site on Mondays and Fridays; the class is also offered regularly at the Lake Park site, on Tuesdays and Fridays at 11 a.m.

According to Marion Jacobson, a regular Bone Builders participant at the Lake Park site, the program helps "to strengthen your muscles and keep your balance."

"It's very easy and slow," said Jacobson. Nevertheless, a doctor's permission is still needed for participants to sign up for the class, she added.

Bone Builders instructors are all volunteers, who undergo a 3-4 hour training session to prepare for the classes, according to Mahube's Karen Lenius, who serves as the Becker County Coordinator on Aging.

The program is funded through the Land of the Dancing Sky Area Agency on Aging, which provided $7,000 for training and equipment in 2009, and has renewed the grant for 2010.

The Bone Builders program attracted the attention of Alice Nordgulen, who came with a friend to one of the classes at the DL site.

"I didn't know this (nutrition site) was here," said Nordgulen.

She soon became a volunteer at the site, and now serves as treasurer of the senior council as well.

Besides Bone Builders, other activities held at the Lake Park Senior Dining site include monthly meetings of the Lake Park Senior Citizens; a 55 Alive driving class in the spring; and card playing after the noon meal on Thursdays.

Activities at the Detroit Lakes site include pinochle on Wednesday mornings, bingo on Wednesday afternoons, and whist on Thursdays.

The musical group Happy Wanderers perform twice a month in Detroit Lakes, on the first Monday and third Wednesday of the month. Birthdays are also celebrated on the third Wednesday of the month, with cake served during the meal.

There are also jigsaw puzzles, a pool table and ping-pong available, Curtis said.

There is a group that meets at the DL site to make recycled greeting cards, which are offered for sale there.

Anna Schlauderaff, the current president of the Detroit Lakes Senior Citizens Council, has been volunteering at the DL Senior Center for 28 years now.

"I like the people, coming down here and talking to everybody," Schlauderaff said.

She and her husband (now deceased) used to deliver Meals on Wheels as well as helping to serve the daily noon meals at the senior center.

"I used to make jams and jellies and brought them here to sell," she added. But since moving into Detroit Lakes a couple of years ago, she no longer has her own garden and orchard from which to harvest fruits and vegetables.

Many regulars at the senior center do bring in their produce to share with other members, said Hein. Last year, someone brought in 90 pounds of rhubarb to share -- which made some delicious dishes, O'Connell noted.

Upcoming events

The DL Senior Citizens Center will be hosting two fund-raising events in April. The first is a spaghetti dinner on Thursday, April 15, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Proceeds will go specifically toward kitchen repairs and improvements at the nutrition site.

The second event is a pancake and French toast breakfast on Sunday, April 18, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For more information on either of these events, or the senior dining program, contact the Detroit Lakes Senior Center at 218-847-5823.

For more information about the Lake Park Senior Dining program, call 218-238-5336.

Other area congregate dining and Meals on Wheels sites in the county include:

• Audubon: 218-439-3432 or 847-5823.

• Elbow Lake: 218-734-2315.

• Frazee: 218-334-2021 or 847-5823.

• Naytahwaush: 218-935-5554, ext. 3237.

• Ogema: 218-983-3200.

• Osage: 218-573-3663.

• Pine Point: 218-573-2210.

• Rice Lake: 218-694-2795.

• White Earth: 218-983-3286, ext. 1236.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454