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Extra helping for NL senior dining

Council grants $1,500 in funding
Diners at North Liberty’s revived Senior Dining program enjoy lunch on Friday, Oct. 16. At just $4 per person for a meal catered from one of North Liberty’s local restaurants, with free social and educational activities afterward, the weekly program gives seniors a chance to spend time interacting with others. (photo by Lori Lindner)

NORTH LIBERTY– The City of North Liberty is helping those who serve.
In response to the city’s new budgetary policy to set aside funds to accommodate mid-fiscal year requests from service organizations, volunteers with North Liberty’s Senior Dining program submitted an application for $1,500 to pay a part-time staff person to coordinate the weekly meal effort.
In its Oct. 13 meeting, the council readily said yes.
North Liberty’s Senior Dining program was recently revived after a few years’ hiatus. The previous program suffered a lack of attendance, for reasons unknown, and dwindled away until a group of citizens formed the North Liberty Senior Council, and launched a new dining program this spring.
Now, a catered lunch is served each Friday at 11:30 a.m., with social and informational activities provided after dessert. There is no income requirement or restrictions.
“It’s a good program, and people do enjoy it. There are a couple of week spots, though,” Senior Council member Carol Lewis told the council last week.
Local restaurants provide the meals, for which participants pay $4 each. Initially, the charge was $3, but unanticipated costs for paper products caused the program to lose money, so rates had to be increased by $1.
“We averaged about 30 to 35 people (each week) until very recently, when we raised our rates, because we didn’t have the foresight to plan for paying for supplies,” said Lewis.
Another drawback, she said, is the lack of a coordinator.
“What we truly don’t have is someone to pull the program together,” said Lewis. Program volunteers are seniors themselves who have other commitments and little incentive to be in charge.
“We don’t have anybody who can take on the responsibility to oversee the program, to be the person to go to in a sudden emergency. So we felt a need to have that person,” Lewis said.
Therefore, the group applied for the city’s Social Services grant to pay part of the salary for someone to work three to four hours a week.
Volunteers have also raised money to fund the program. Lewis said former city council member Gerry Kuhl raised $850 by soliciting donations from local businesses, and one participant donated $100.
“So we have not quite half the money. We were hoping to get some money to help fund the person who can assist us,” Lewis added.
During the city’s 2015-2016 budget process, the council agreed to earmark $11,420 in this fiscal year for social service programming– aside from the city’s regular annual giving to programs like the North Liberty Community Pantry, the Family Resource Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Free Summer Lunch. Previously, when entities asked the city for donations mid-fiscal year, the city’s budget was already set, leaving little flexibility to accommodate such requests. The new Social Services fund provides flexibility, and includes an application form and set deadlines for each round of funding to lend objectivity in awarding the funds. Applications for the second round of funding will be taken until Dec. 30, with awards being made January 12, 2016.
Last week, all council members expressed their support for the Senior Dining program and did not hesitate to approve the application.
“I wholeheartedly agree with this program,” said council member Coleen Chipman. “I think of all we do to support our younger citizens, all different ages, but we don’t do that much for older people.”
Chipman said the socialization activities that occur in conjunction with the meals– whether card games, BINGO, or informational presentations– are just as important in supporting seniors.
“I would even be willing to bump up the price a little bit because I think the justification is there,” Chipman added.
Councilman Terry Donahue said his main considerations are how many residents of North Liberty benefit from the city’s funding, and whether it fills an unmet need in the community.
“I believe (this does),” said Donahue. “We are trying to reinstitute a program and put it on sound footing. We are meeting needs and establishing a foundation for this thing to grow. I do agree that volunteers are great to have, but when too much is put on their shoulders they tend to balk a little bit. So I have no problem with a coordinator coming in.”
The council unanimously approved the request.
The Senior Council is now in the process of formalizing the coordinator’s position.
North Liberty’s Senior Council is an offshoot of a broader volunteer effort that started with a grassroots group of representatives from the city, area churches and other individuals with the purpose of connecting with seniors and finding ways to improve the quality of life for North Liberty’s older residents. The group meets every other Monday at 3 p.m. at the North Liberty Community Center, and all North Liberty residents are invited to attend.
North Liberty’s Senior Council has been successful in reviving senior dining in the community, and they hope it’s just the first course. The group plans to focus on other unmet senior needs in the future, though growing and maintaining the weekly dining program is its current priority. Suggestions for future efforts include recreational and exercise groups, expanded senior meal opportunities and a foster grandparent program.
Senior Dining participants seem happy with the re-instituted program, including volunteer Judy McRoberts. She has spearheaded the effort, along with several other Senior Council volunteers, and noted staff members from the North Liberty Recreation Department and Assistant City Administrator Tracey Mulcahey have been very supportive.
“That’s one thing about the community of North Liberty: they are so good about saying, ‘Oh, we need something? Well, let’s do it,” said McRoberts. In some cities, she said, grassroots efforts can be thwarted by complicated government procedures, lengthy grant-writing processes or other red tape. “It’s so much easier here. They don’t worry about trying to make things so formal. A lot of times it’s just the community coming together and stepping up.”
That sense of community is evident to newcomer Evelyn Booker Morgan, who just moved to North Liberty from Chicago. From the time of her arrival, Booker Morgan served as a volunteer in North Liberty’s Free Summer Lunch program, and now regularly comes to Senior Dining to help serve and to eat lunch.
“The camaraderie, the interaction with people, the joy that it seems to just bring them when they come together,…I’m amazed,” said Booker-Morgan.
The summer lunch program, which serves a daily free meal to any child under age 18 regardless of income or situation, was her introduction to the way the community serves its citizens.
“I thought that was a fantastic thing,” she said, “and I was glad they didn’t put an income guideline on it. Everybody is not at the poverty level, but everybody needs to eat. A lot of kids’ parents may work during the day and they may not get to eat a nutritious meal.”
Booker Morgan sees similar benefits to those who come to Senior Dining.
“They get nutritious meals, and it’s an inexpensive lunch,” she said. “If you want to just come out and have lunch that day or sit around and talk with people, you can find out so much about others. It’s just a wonderful thing.”