Since January 2022, a group of friends – some old, some new – have been meeting on Fridays at the MidPointe Library West Chester to play cards, enjoy each other’s company and share a meal.
The meal is provided as part of Council on Aging’s (COA) congregate meal program and is funded by the Older Americans Act. As the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) for southwestern Ohio, including Butler County, COA plans and oversees community services funded by the Older Americans Act, including congregate meals. In this capacity, COA contracts with qualified service providers to prepare and deliver meals to sites across COA’s service area. Congregate meals provide safe and nutritious meals in a group setting that sustain and improve participants’ health and reduce isolation by promoting socialization. In 2021, COA provided 27,894 meals in five counties, including meals served at seven locations in Butler County.
Most of the older adults who attend the Friday meal have known each other for years. Many previously attended the West Chester Activity Club, located on Cox Road, before it closed in 2019. Since that time, the group, now known as the West Chester Senior Coalition, has cast about from one location to another, looking for a permanent place to meet – a challenge made even greater by the pandemic.
The group’s organizers, Jack and Nancy Williams, and Anne Holbrook, have been instrumental in keeping everyone together. Through community connections, the senior coalition connected with the Boys and Girls Club of West Chester/Library and recently established an agreement allowing the coalition to use space at the club four days a week through 2023.
Nancy Williams said the partnership has been beneficial for both parties. The older adults have meeting space in the Boys and Girls Club facility where members can gather to play pickle ball, chair volleyball and other games. “They are awesome, they’ve been so good to us,” Williams said. Several members of the senior coalition have even begun volunteering at the club, teaching pickle ball, chess, golf and line dancing to the children.
The only day the group does not have access to the club is Fridays. Council on Aging helped fill this void by connecting the senior coalition with the MidPointe Library system. COA got involved after officials in West Chester Township wanted to learn about programming opportunities for older adults in the township. Though the county has a senior services tax levy, most of the money generated from the levy is used to fund the county’s Elderly Services Program, the aim of which is to provide basic but essential services that help eligible county older adults remain safe and independent in their homes. Neither the levy nor the Elderly Services program provide funding for senior centers or other community-based activities.
The congregate meal at the MidPointe Library West Chester is provided free of charge to adults age 60 and older, though donations are accepted. The meals are funded by COA through the Older Americans Act and provided by Meals on Wheels of SWO and NKY. The meals vary from week to week but are designed to meet the nutritional needs of older adults. Past meals have included cob salads, meal loaf, boxed lunches, spaghetti, lasagna and more.
“Congregate meals play an important role in helping older adults get the nutrition they need to live healthy lives, while also providing an opportunity to socialize with friends and neighbors,” said Ken Wilson, COA’s vice president of program operations.
Wilson said the pandemic has had a big impact on older adults’ quality of life, especially social isolation. “During the pandemic, locations older adults used for socialization shut down – adult day centers, senior centers, restaurants, libraries, even our congregate meal sites. Things are starting to open back up, and just like the rest of us, older adults are clamoring for opportunities to get back out and socialize with their friends. Through a congregate meal, we can not only help to meet the nutritional needs of older adults, but we can also address the growing challenge of social isolation.”
Feedback on the meals – and the opportunity to socialize with friends – has been universally positive. Coalition leader Nancy Williams said the meal provides “companionship and it’s giving them something to do. It’s keeping them way healthier than being locked up at home.”
Married 55 years, Becky and Ron have been members of the senior coalition for years. Ron, a lifelong resident of West Chester Township, recalled playing baseball with is 4H club in the cow pasture now occupied by the library. The couple enjoys getting out of the house to see their friends and have fun. “During COVID, I thought I would lose my mind,” Becky said. In addition to the meal at the library, the couple also goes to the Boys and Girls Club to play cards, chair volleyball and other games with their coalition friends.
Nancy said many in the senior coalition have been friends for 20 or more years. But, she added, the group is very welcoming.
Joe, a U.S. Air Force veteran, was visiting the library on a recent Friday when he happened upon the meal. “Someone saw me and said, ‘You must be looking for the seniors,’ and pushed me on in.” Joe said everyone was very welcoming and he quickly found common ground with other veterans in the group.
Karen, from Liberty Township, agreed. “I’ve been here twice now, and I already feel like I belong,” she said. “As you age, you lose friends along the way. It’s hard to make new friends.”
Mairi, 65 and from Hamilton, was seated at Karen’s table and echoed that sentiment. “My kids are grown up now. I don’t have those mom connections anymore.”
MidPointe Library’s Community Engagement Director, Cari Hillman, said the library could not be happier with the partnership between COA, Meals on Wheels and the West Chester Senior Coalition. The library system is exploring opportunities to offer a similar meal at other branch locations in the fall.
“MidPointe continues to be a community anchor that provides essential services to all ages,” said Travis Bautz, MidPoint Library System executive director. “We are delighted that our collaboration with the West Chester Senior Coalition and Council on Aging has developed into a thriving weekly program that is beneficial for all involved.”
The meal at the MidPointe West Chester Library will continue to be offered at 11:30 am every Friday at least through the end of 2022. To ensure there is enough food for everyone, registration for the meal is requested by 8:00 am Wednesday each week by calling (513) 424-1251 or registering online at http://www.midpointelibrary.evanced.info/signup.