SWANTON – Seniors in leis glided their hands through the air, mimicking waves as they swayed to tropical music. The dance was a prelude to a Hawaiian themed lunch of pineapple chicken, coleslaw, fruit cocktail and more, provided by Champlain Valley Agency on Aging (CVAA).
Every Tuesday CVAA offers a mid-day meal in Swanton for people 65 years and older. It is called the Swanton School House Lunch Bunch. With a suggested donation of $4, seniors in the community come together to enjoy a home-style meal, meet up with friends and have some fun.
“We like to get together, socialize and get to know people,” Carol Martin said. “Get out and get away from our husbands for a little while.”
“It’s nice here,” Linda Russo, a volunteer, said. “I always come every week.”
Everyone seemed to enjoy their food, the brown rice with celery and onion being a crowd favorite. When asked about his or her past favorite meal, everyone had a different answer. Some liked shepherds pie; others enjoyed turkey.
“That’s hard to say,” Jenny Bowles said, when asked for her favorite. “They’re all good. I haven’t hit on anything that I haven’t like yet.
All of the food is prepared each week by the Vermont Dairy Center in Enosburgh. Rhonda Somers-Fletcher, the meals coordinator, calls a couple days ahead to give the center the number of people who have registered for the next meal.
“People have to sign up ahead,” she said. As a non-profit, CVAA depends on funding from federal and state governments as well as independent donations, such as the $4 for each meal.
Somers-Fletcher has to order an almost exact amount of food because the organization cannot afford to let any go to waste. “Sometimes we’re lucky and they send extra food,” she said, explaining that there is then enough for people who might want to join at the last minute.
“I think they love the meals because it’s home-style,” Somers-Fletcher said. “They like to come every week because of the socializing. It’s a fun site.”
“I think it’s important for seniors to have a place where they can congregate,” she said. “It’s about having a place to connect with the community.”
Somers-Fletcher said the weekly meals are great for the retirees. They take it very seriously, like a job. “They’ll call me and tell me if they’re going to be late,” she said.
“I’ve been coming here for 10 years,” Germaine Zweeres said. “I’m 90 years old. I’m a young chicken.”
On average, 25 to 30 people will show up for the weekly meals at the old Swanton School House. When the meal is held at The Abbey Pub and Restaurant in Enosburg Falls, upwards of 170 people will show up.
“I have entertainment,” Somers-Fletcher said. “I hire a D.J. I usually tie in a theme.”
Events at The Abbey aren’t the only crowd pleasers. CVAA is host for line dancing one a month and there are usually special themed meals around the holidays like a barbecue over the summer and a harvest dinner for Thanksgiving.
In 2015, CVAA provided Franklin County with more than 23,500 community meals. They also provided more than 48,500 meals and safety checks for seniors through their Meals on Wheels program.
While the seniors ate their meals and worked on clearing their plates, some who finished early wandered around the room to bid for different items on auction, ranging from frames to ornamental figurines. Whether they bid a quarter or a dollar, all of the money went to CVAA to help plan their next event.
“It’s a happy day,” Somers-Fletcher said. “I love putting on events like this.”
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Anyone who would like to join the Swanton School House Lunch Bunch for the weekly meals may contact Rhonda Somers-Fletcher at Rhonda@cvaa.org or 802-865-0360 ext. 608.