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Thirty-five area older adults gathered recently to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in style at the Lakeview Center for Active Aging. In honor of the day (as so they wouldn’t get pinched), most wore something green while they enjoyed a festive meal together.

Green candies and table decorations and a shamrock word search puzzle filled the tables. A full parking lot indicated that many people were interested in attending this day. That’s generally true for each senior lunch event, held weekdays at noon. The suggested contribution is $1.50 or more.

The meal for the day, appropriately, included corn beef, cooked cabbage, cornbread and milk. Diners said the meal, catered by Moose Cafe in Asheville, which has the food contract for the daily events, was tasty.

Operating year-round, the hot lunch program is funded by the Buncombe County Council on Aging. Lakeview Center is one of five sites around the county where meals are served for residents 60 years and over. What started with around 10 people many years back has now grown to a consistent 35-plus for each noontime lunch.

Alma and David Bush, who moved to Black Mountain from south Florida a year ago, quickly became regulars. Able to walk there from their home, they began coming for the hot meal and the chance to meet people and learn more about their new community. Now, their motivation is the rich friendships they have formed. They believe those relationships are as nourishing as is the food.

“Aging can be a time of limited activity and isolation, and it’s so important for folks to get out and get involved in things and connect with others,” said Alma. The lunch program keeps them healthier and happier, she said.

Many at the meal would likely be home alone, probably eating a simple sandwich, other guests said. Brittany Williams, recreation program supervisor, believes the program is meeting a significant need for socialization for these seniors. “For many, it’s more about the socialization than the need for food,” she said.

A benefit to some is the help with one’s grocery budget. The suggested $1.50-an-up donation allows most to afford the cost. “Some can give more and help others out,” said Williams. One guest found her food stamp income reduced, so these meals have been a blessing.

Attendee Carolyn Beckner rarely misses a meal. “Coming for lunch gives me something to look forward to each day,” she said. “With several illnesses I experience, the people here really cheer me on and encourage me; I am so thankful for them.”

Some favorite meals on the monthly menu include meatloaf, barbeque, vegetable soup, fried chicken and sweet potato casserole. The portions are generous, guests said.

The group is a mix of those who grew up in the area and enjoy connecting with school classmates and people who have moved to the area in recent years.

Once a month, they enjoy dessert together after lunch to celebrate those having birthdays that month.

Through friendships and new connections made over the lunches, David Bush found himself volunteering with some of the town’s Recreation and Parks Department programs. In particular, on this day, following lunch he worked on the Lakeview Center’s produce gardens. He recently helped at the Valentine’s Day 5k event.

Trevia Rhodes, the nutrition site coordinator for the lunch program, described the lunch group as her family.

“We all take care of one another.” she said. “If someone is out for a few days, someone quickly calls to check on them because we miss each other.”

Williams plans other regular activities around the lunch. Seniors enjoy chair yoga, bingo, square dancing, canasta, Tai Chi and more. Health Ridge Pharmacy provides a monthly lunch-and-learn program and gives blood pressure checks for guests.

For more about the program, contact the center at 669-8610.

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