By C.L. Harmon Publisher
Two hugs, one ‘I love you’, several hello’s, many conversations and even more smiles greeted me when I went to the Mannford Senior Citizen Center to interview for this story. That never happens when I go to a restaurant! If I were only 60 years old, I would be taking my lunch there.There were also a few laughs from those friendly folks who attend the center as I conducted the interview with manager Jana Haley. This is what I call a “spotlight story”, which does exactly what its title refers to…spotlight something that needs a little attention. Like everything else in the state, senior funding has been cut at the state level. The center does not receive funding from the City, but the building and utilities are paid by the city. “We are very grateful to the City for paying the utilities. Some communities, like Oilton, have to pay their own utilities,” Haley stated. As such, the center relies heavily on donations from those who are provided meals, Haley said. The financial situation has wosened over previous month with the state cutting its usual allottment to half for the months of May and June, Haley stated. “These cuts are why we are in trouble. We won’t get any new funding for tthe program until July,” she said. She added that it’s the food quality and variety that is affected. For the most part, the number of people who regularly attend for the lunch period is between 30-40, but that number can drop to 20 on bean days, Haley said. If the money continues to dwindle, them more bean days are to come, which equates to less people, she explained. The center is open Monday through Friday from 9-3 and though the lunches are the main attraction, there are several activities available such as playing pool, cards, puzzles, Scrabble, live music on Thursdays and just old friends visiting. As for the music, the members play, but are always looking for anyone with musical ability to stop by and share their talent. As for the financial aspect and how the community can help, Haley stated that more members are needed. First off, the center must maintain a minimum number of members to qualify for state funding and secondly are the donations of $2 which are always asked for to help offset the cost of the food. The donations are not required, but without them, the center may not be able to provide meals much longer. Each meal is designed to be a well-balanced meal since it may be many of these seniors’ only meal for the day, Haley said. Examples of meals include: Barbeque riblet, egg salad sandwiches, oven-baked chicken thighs, sausage gumbo and taco salads as main courses. A variety of a vegetable, rice, mixed fruit and a cookie are also provided depending upon the meal of the day. Menus are available at the center. The money from the state is not given to the center directly, but funneled into INCOG (Indian Nations Council of Governments). From there it is dispersed to the food service company, Sodexo. It should also be noted that many of the meals are delivered to members who can no longer make the trip to the center. “We are sure hoping the new senior apartments will help with our membership,” Haley said. She explained that there are a few who already attend the center moving in there, but it’s her belief that most are coming from the outside and hopefully will make their way to the center. Haley has been with the center since 2002 and is the only reason the doors have stayed open as long as they have, according to several of the members. One of those members has been going for 30 years and told me that Haley is the best manager the center has ever had. In order for her to continue to give the Mannford senior citizens a place to congregate and eat a cheap meal, she is stressing how important it is that new members join and that the current members donate the full $2 that is requested.