Senior Nutrition Program celebrates 50 years - AAA nutrition staff offer hope to older Oklahomans
Oklahomans who are 60 and older can gather with peers in their communities for free, hot, nutritious midday meals prepared by registered dieticians. The Senior Nutrition Program has offered hope to older Oklahomans since 1972 by helping them meet one-third of their daily nutritional needs. But this program is about so much more than just a wholesome meal. It’s about the memories. The nutrition site staff profiled below have been making memories in their communities for more than 40 years each—nearly as long as the Senior Nutrition Program has been around.
Pat Peay, the director at Murray County Senior Center, has been with the program since 1976. She says, “I have so many memories, have known so many people and traveled countless miles.” The Site Manager there, Norma Wallace, began as a head cook in 1982 for Southern Oklahoma Nutrition Program. Norma says, “Many staff and participants have walked through those doors, leaving many sweet memories.”
Paulette Wheat is the assistant director in Dewey and has been there since October 1980. “I have enjoyed every aspect of my job. You learn so much from the seniors when you interact and listen to them. When I started, it was going to be part time while daughter was in school. Well, that changed in a hurry. You get very attached to them, some more than others. It has been a very rewarding journey.”
Congregate meals give older Oklahomans the ability to maintain their dignity and independence and remain in their own homes. While at the meal sites, they can also partake in recreational activities such as bingo or Bingocize®. Participants can also receive health screenings, are given information about health and wellness and have the chance to volunteer, if they desire.
Alice B. is a customer from the Areawide Aging Agency. She says, “I am very thankful for each and every person I’ve met and of course the meals are great! God is good.”
Bobbie McDonald has worked the Nutrition Program in Ryan, Oklahoma since September 1981. She serves the citizens of Ryan and ensures rural Oklahomans are aware of the services they can be enrolled in to make their quality of life better. When asked what she loves about this program, she responded, “The people. I have known them all my life. They are getting a well-balanced meal. If they don’t come out, we go look. We try to find them.”
Patsy Wessel started as a cook aide in 1976 at the Oilton Senior Center in Creek County, and she continues to work there today as the site manager. Her cinnamon rolls are famous in Creek County.
Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) provide many services to older citizens, including congregate meals, through their contract with Oklahoma Human Services’ (OKDHS) Community Living, Aging and Protective Services (CAP).
Tangela Benton, the spokesperson for Southwestern Oklahoma Development Authority (SWODA) says, “Ensuring older adults remain involved and included in our communities for as long as possible benefits everyone.”
Lora Mae Dobbins is the site manager at Hominy. “My life work with Aging Programs began when I was 26 years old in 1973. The seniors have been my confidants, supporters in every way and my friends. Together we have built the Hominy Senior Programs.” Pauline Hudson has also worked in Hominy as a cook for 40 years. “Working for the Nutrition Program has helped me meet wonderful people and cook things I wouldn’t have been able to.”
In 1980 Janet Verner became a head cook before becoming Stillwater’s site manager in 2000. She says, “I have stayed this long because I like the people. Seniors are the best and doing good for someone else is my motto." Her director, Chris Hardin, says, “You can always depend on Janet for a warm smile and a big hug.”
The State has 11 regional AAAs that are funded through Title III of The Older Americans Act. The services provided to older Oklahomans could not be accomplished without dedicated staff members, some of whom have been working for their local AAA for forty years or more. OKDHS recognizes the workers’ decades-long dedication and the importance of their connection to older Oklahomans.
To learn more about the congregate meals program, visit the Older American Act webpage or reach out to your local AAA. There are no income standards and each person is assessed on their individual needs. Local meal sites may have COVID-19 restrictions.
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