By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
BG Independent News
After driving slick roads to deliver hot lunches to local seniors, Denise Niese found herself Thursday evening at Gordon Foods stocking up for some unscheduled guests this weekend.
For the first time in 17 years, Niese, director of the Wood County Committee on Aging, is preparing to open the Wood County Senior Center as a warming station for local senior citizens on the weekend.
“It’s the first time that I’ve been here that it’s been this cold for this long,” Niese said after she wrapped up her grocery shopping.
The senior center, at 305 N. Main St., Bowling Green, has been opened in the past as a cooling center in the summers when the heat index reaches 100 or above.
But when Niese returned from delivering meals on Thursday, she was approached by several people at the senior center about opening the facility up on Saturday as a warming station. The center is normally closed on the weekends.
Niese agreed and went a step further. “I asked them what they wanted for lunch,” she said.
So after work, she was at the grocery getting ingredients for stuffed pepper soup, “real potato soup,” grilled cheese sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies.
“I’ll be peeling potatoes tomorrow,” Niese said. She has no idea how many seniors to expect. “I am planning for 50.”
Normal lunch time at the senior center on weekdays draws about 85 people in search of a hot meal, conversation and maybe a game of cards. The weather this week cut that number to about 60 each day.
The senior center also delivers approximately 550 meals a day to seniors’ homes throughout the county. “We’ll get all the meals out this week,” Niese said.
While the staff delivers the meals, they also make sure the seniors have their “shelf meals” that were dispersed this fall, and can be eaten if the power goes out. They also make sure there are a couple frozen meals that can be warmed up in the microwave or oven just in case the daily meals can’t be delivered.
As the senior center deals with the challenges of the cold weather, it is also facing a double whammy of staff illnesses. “I had nine people off today with the flu,” Niese said.
That means Niese got behind the wheel to drive a route of 38 home meal deliveries in the northwest section of the county, from Cogan’s Landing on the edge of Bowling Green to Grand Rapids.
“The 2 ½ hour route took me 3 ½ hours,” she said. And she only got the vehicle stuck once, while backing out of a driveway. Just as she went off the roadway, a pickup truck came along and the driver had a chain to pull her vehicle out. “People are so generous,” she said.
The senior center will be open Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Lunch will be served at noon, and if people are hungry later, dinner will be served at 5 p.m.
“If they’re still there I picked up some stuff,” Niese said. Nothing fancy – sloppy joes and hot dogs. “It’ll be something warm in their tummies.”
And anyone wanting to help out is welcome to warm up their hands washing dishes, she said.
Niese is also asking Wood County residents to check on their senior neighbors. Many of them will be venturing out since it’s the first week of the month when they get their pension checks and get prescriptions renewed.
This frigid cold is tough on all ages, she pointed out. “I don’t care if they’re 25 or 85.”