New Year at senior center

Linda Kuka leads diners at the Valier Senior Center last Friday as they welcome in the New Year a bit early. The center continues to gain in participation as an atmosphere of community and engagement also grows. Photo by Martena Ramos

When the prospect of staying awake until midnight loses its appeal, but you still want to celebrate the new year in style you can do as the folks at Valier’s Senior Citizen Center did last Friday. You can improvise.

In the months since Linda Kuka took over as head cook at the Senior Center, she and Martena Ramos have made an effort to make the center a welcoming space for their patrons. Seniors are invited to arrive early and stay late after lunch to have time to socialize. They have engaged in crafts, gardening, yoga, bingo, and even some impromptu entertainment when the right folks are in town. “It’s about quality of life — a chance to get out and socialize,” Kuka said.

Linda makes an effort to provide special meals for special holidays such as Veterans Day and Thanksgiving. She wanted to do the same for New Year’s Eve, but that gets a little tricky when you are only together for lunch.

The opportunity to ring in the New Year is more about being with friends and family than catching the annual date change at exactly 12:00 a.m. Jan. 1. To celebrate, the patrons were provided silly Happy New Year hats and noisemakers and when the clock chimed 12:00 p.m. (noon) on Friday, the merriment began. Linda led the diners in a rousing cheer for the New Year.

Dinner was also new. Linda reported, “It was a first-timer … a baked potato bar with potatoes and taco meat.”

Toppings included all the fixings with cheese, olives, green onions, tomatoes, lettuce, bacon bits, green peppers, ranch dressing, sour cream, and salsa. The table setting included carrots, celery sticks, and cucumber slices in a cup, a side of cottage cheese, party hats, festive napkins, and a noise blower. Cake was served for dessert with a choice of hot tea, cocoa, lemonade, or coffee.

When Linda Kuka took over in February 2022, the daily senior meals averaged 22 for dine in and take out combined. The participation has nearly doubled in the last year. A typical day finds the cooks serving and delivering 35-40 lunches.

The meals are not limited to senior citizens. Anyone can order a meal to pick up or for dine in. Several working folks take advantage of this offer on a regular basis. Senior citizens are encouraged to donate $7 for their meal while those aged 59 and under may purchase the same meal for $10. This represents a small price increase for 2023.

Linda explained, “Services provided (for senior citizens) are funded in part by the federal Older Americans Act Funding in addition to project income generated and tax deductible donations. Some people have the misconception that the money comes from the state government. With the rising costs of food, an increase in meal prices was unavoidable.”

The current meal prices along with the federal funding are not covering the cost to produce them.

“We have been very fortunate,” she said. “We received $500 from an anonymous donor this summer and a local church donates $150 annually. It would be greatly appreciated if folks would add our local seniors to their donation lists.”

For those interested in receiving lunches, there is a menu schedule available at the Community Center. Patrons are asked to call 406-279-3527 prior to 10 a.m. the day of to reserve their meal. Linda encouraged, “Everyone is welcome to purchase lunch. Just give us a call.”

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