DIANE MAKAR MURPHY Seniors get together, 'and we don't have to cook'

On a sunny Wednesday afternoon in August, after a long winding drive from Boardman along beautiful country roads lined with rolling farms, I arrived in Calcutta at an indoor picnic.
The Fellowship Hall of the Church of Nazarene -- a large space with long rows of tables -- had about 200 senior citizens in it, enjoying the last of their BBQ sandwiches, baked beans, potato salad, watermelon and a country western song.
The Brownies and Junior Girl Scouts of Troop 91, Leetonia, scurried between the tables delivering dozens of donated door prizes. & quot;This has been great. Very nice, & quot; said participant Marie Chapman, 79.
& quot;When I heard about it, I thought it sounded wonderful, & quot; said senior Jane Conner. Chapman, Conner and the others were brought together for this special day by the Elderly Nutrition Program of the Community Action Agency of Columbiana County (CAA). The program normally delivers a near daily meal to the homes of 250 seniors and serves another 90 at five congregate sites, with a program patterned after the school lunch meal program.
& quot;Our senior group from Columbiana goes to the Methodist Church in Leetonia for noon day meals, & quot; Conner said. She talked over the happy din of the picnic. & quot;We go Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and we don't have to cook. & quot;
Where to go
Those over 60 in the Columbiana area may go to CAA's offices in Lisbon; First United Methodist Church in Leetonia; Shoub Tower Apartments in Wellsville; St. Patrick's Church Fellowship Hall, Salineville; Fawcett Apartments in East Liverpool; or the First Presbyterian Church in Salem. The sites are called congregate because the program also wants participants to congregate, meet and socialize with each other, which is why a picnic was scheduled and a Christmas party is in the works.
& quot;People in northeast Ohio tend not to be very supportive of government. They think [programs] are handouts and not positive. Well, here is one that is, & quot; said Carol Bretz, executive director, CAA. & quot;These are people who worked for a living their entire lives, but they were the guys that sold the shoes and checked the groceries. They didn't have the money to put away. & quot;
The Elderly Nutrition Program may help many remain in relatively unassisted living, a large benefit of the home meal delivery. & quot;The reality is, if you can't leave home, maybe we can help, & quot; Bretz said. Two trucks equipped to hold foods warm and cold follow a route along those rolling hills -- just the Lisbon route is nearly 100 miles long.
Chapman said she knows of four or five seniors who use it as their main meal. & quot;If they didn't have that, they wouldn't have a good meal, & quot; she said.
Social gathering
But providing delivered meals is just one part of the Elderly Nutrition Program. & quot;The purpose ... is also to provide socialization opportunities through congregate meeting places, & quot; Bretz said. & quot;It gives [congregate participants] something to look forward to. & quot;
As Conner explained, & quot;[After our meal] we stay and play games and cards and get to meet people. & quot;
& quot;It gets you out of the house, & quot; said Letty Mattern, 80, who goes to the Lisbon site with lifelong friend Chapman. Sandy Merrill, their site manager, decorates the tables according to the seasons, puts out scripture readings and remembers birthdays, she said.
Said Chapman, who is an active community volunteer and goes for meals once or twice a week, & quot;If people just would go, they'd realize you don't sit home feeling sorry for yourself."
The picnic was designed to give even homebound program participants that social opportunity as well -- a chance for a warm conversation in addition to a warm meal.
For more information about the Columbiana County, Elderly Nutrition Program, call (330) 424-7221.

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