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Lunch program volunteers, Karen Dech and Linda Whitney

Lunch program volunteers, Karen Dech and Linda Whitney

SHERMAN – Sherman’s Senior Center, which has been operating in the Fairfield County town for roughly 30 years now, recently began providing nutritious meals to seniors on Wednesdays through a senior nutrition program. Sherman residents 55 and older can enjoy a wholesome midweek meal and the companionship of fellow diners, plus a follow-up card game, for a $3 optional—though strongly encouraged—donation.

The Wednesday lunch program was founded by Suzette Berger, the Sherman Senior Center’s Coordinator since 2005, who solicited help from the state government to operate the weekly program. Berger had been trying to initiate the program, based on similar programs featured at a number of surrounding local and regional senior centers, for “many, many years,” and, in late 2017, finally got her wish: Several months ago she was able to set up “trial” lunches, and by January of this year the program had transformed into a weekly affair.

The lunches, part of a senior nutrition program co-funded by grants from the state of Connecticut’s Western Connecticut Area Agency on Aging, as well as diner contributions, are provided by CW Resources, a company headquartered in New Britain, CT, which also prepares food for the State of Connecticut Home Care Program and Massachusetts’ Elderly Nutrition Program.

“It’s quality nutrition. The meals are designed by an actual nutritionist, so they’re made by federal guidelines,” Ms. Berger stated; she also noted that the meals are marked to indicate nutritional values, keeping lunch attendees informed for the sake of health and special dietary needs.

Berger additionally stressed the importance of the sociability engendered by the communal meals, mentioning that the weekly lunches, as well as other social programs offered by the Senior Center, provide a sense of companionship for too-often isolated seniors.

She feels that men in particular suffer the negative effects of social withdrawal later in life: “We’re trying to figure out a way to have men come out to socialize,” she said, observing that senior centers tend to be female-dominated. But, with the program quickly growing in popularity, Berger has indeed noticed an uptick in the number of male attendees. “I was thinking I would get between seven and 12 people a week, but we have had between 12 and 20 every week, and… we’re getting men to come… We’ve had a whole table full of men [recently], and they’re getting to meet each other. And [these were guys] who would have never come to other things.”

She also opined that the mental stimulation provided by social interaction during the lunches, as well as the follow-up games of pinochle, may be beneficial for those suffering from neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Many participants at the Wednesday lunch program this past week, on Jan. 31, certainly had favorable opinions, both of the program and the Center itself. Rosemary O’Connell, a 57-year resident of Sherman and three-year Center attendee, approved of the program, and felt that her experiences at the Senior Center have been worthwhile. Similar reactions came from Chris Engle and her husband Rich Engle, who have also been coming to the Center for a few years.

“I love it. I think they’re wonderful,” said Grace Hotchkiss of the Center and its staff. Another long-time resident of Sherman—Hotchkiss has lived in the Western Connecticut town since 1947—she said of the weekly lunches, very succinctly, “I’ve really enjoyed them.” Wayne Morrison, who has lived in

Sherman for 20 years, and sat across from Hotchkiss at their dining table, nodded his head in agreement.

Janet Wey, a Commissioner for Sherman’s Commission on Aging, a group

which supports the Senior Center and its activities, was in attendance; a 48-year Sherman resident, and a member of the Senior Center for the past seven years, it was her third time participating in the weekly lunch program.

“It’s a good program, particularly for people who live alone,” she said. “It gets people up and out and dressed and it gets them a nutritious meal.”

Attendees additionally praised Berger herself, as well as two of the lunch program’s industrious and kindhearted volunteers, Karen Dech and Linda Whitney, who clean the Center and its kitchen, and prepare and serve meals, when they’re available to help out.

Ms. Berger herself is a long-time volunteer—a bonafide good Samaritan whose community service experience ranges from leading a Girl Scout troop to feeding the homeless at Loaves and Fishes, nearby New Milford’s soup kitchen, and beyond—and commended all the Senior Center staff, and volunteers, few as they are, who take time to help elders in their local community.

Still, she lamented that, on the whole, there remains a short supply of resources, and too few volunteers, available to the Sherman Senior Center: “A lot of senior centers offer this lunch program five days a week. But we’re just so small and volunteer-run that one day a week has been what we’re able to manage,” she said. Ms. Berger noted that transportation is a particularly tricky issue for a senior center in a small and relatively rural town like Sherman—the least populous in Fairfield County—especially considering that the Center usually only has one or two vans at its disposal, and that Sherman is somewhat notorious for having thin, winding roads, and difficult-to-navigate driveways.

Lunch begins in the Senior Center’s spacious main room at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesdays, and typically concludes by 12:30 p.m. The meals are uniform for all attendees, but change every week. Lunch is followed by a game of pinochle, usually from around noon to 4 p.m., and afterwards a shopping trip to New Milford, for which reservations must be made with the Center two days prior. The Senior Center is located on Connecticut Route 37 in Sherman, across the street from the Sherman Public Library.

The Senior Center provides numerous other services, notably meal delivery, available to housebound people, seniors or otherwise; free meals ready for pickup at the Center itself, a relief for both needy families and retired individuals; a donation-based congregant dining program for seniors, who receive both a prepaid card that they can use to purchase a weekly meal at Sherman’s American Pie Company restaurant, as well as transportation to and from the restaurant; and Matthew 25, a 501(c)(3) organization that began as a Catholic charity and delivers locally-prepared, hot meals, often for free, to areas individuals. A number of these programs require that prospective participants apply for them through the state’s Department of Social Services.

Assistive devices, such as wheelchair-attachable magnifiers for the visually impaired, and specialized cards and other objects more easily handled by those suffering from multiple sclerosis, are readily available to Center attendees.

Overall, the attendees at Wednesday’s lunch program appear to find the new, midweek meals a positive development for the small Senior Center.

“The idea [behind] the Senior Center is enrichment,” said Berger. “We try to maintain a good quality of life for seniors in our community for as long as possible.”

You can find out more about the Sherman Senior Center and its services at the town of Sherman’s official website, townofshermanct.org: Search for the “Sherman Senior Center” link under the “COMMUNITY” tab at the top of the website. For more information, or if you’re interested in volunteering—the Center would greatly appreciate it!—you can contact the Center via phone by calling 860-354-2414 and dialing extension 1, or by e-mailing shermanseniorcenter@gmail.com.

By Ryan Stewart, College Intern