A founder of a decades-old senior meal program finds herself setting the table again.
By Kristin Jones
In the 1970s, when June Waller inspected senior housing units for the Colorado Springs Housing Authority, she kept seeing dog and cat food on people’s tables.
The trouble with that? “There wasn’t no dogs and cats around,” says Waller. “They couldn’t have animals.”
She came to suspect that people were eating it themselves.
With Waller’s leadership, the housing authority started a daily meal program for seniors in 17 locations across the city. It was a wild success, by her account. Elderly people got dressed up to see their friends at the community lunches. They’d play games and chat. On Sundays, there were even ice sculptures—the contribution of a retired carver.
“I really believe that it helps seniors live longer. It spruces them up to know they’re going out; they will make an effort if they know they’re going,” says Waller. “[Combating] isolation is the biggie.”
When Waller started the program, she was in her 30s.
“It never occurred to me that I would eat at this program,” she says. “All my people died in their fifties. That’s how long I planned to live.”
But sure enough, she turned 60, and then 70 and 80. She’s now been enjoying the meals for decades, as the program shifted out of the hands of the housing authority and into the domain of various nonprofits.
Then, a few months ago, the daily lunches in her neighborhood of Hillside abruptly ended.
The meals at the community center and a senior housing complex in Hillside hadn’t been attracting enough people, said Melissa Marts, program development administrator for the Pikes Peak Area Agency on Aging, which had been funding the daily meals. (Marts said some form of the meal program may return after the agency spends some time looking into the reasons that the lunches hadn’t been well attended, and what could better meet community needs: “We need to be talking about that with seniors.”)
And so it was that Waller found herself building a meal program again, 45 years or so after the first time.
Calling themselves the Savvy Seniors, she and a group of friends wrangled funding (including from The Colorado Trust), secured a spot in the office of a nonprofit in Hillside called the Urbanites Leading the Pikes Peak Region and sent out invitations. Twenty-six people signed in to the lunch in September, but Waller believes the crowd was closer to 40 people—a mix of the regulars at the previous Hillside lunches and other participants from across the city.
Peggy Shivers came from the north end of town to attend the lunch.
“It was just so warm and friendly. We all just had a great time. The food was delicious,” she said. “It was just nice meeting new people and seeing some people I hadn’t seen in ages.”
Cleasther Marchman, a retired school administrator, said she was impressed with the turnout.
“I believe that this was unique because of the diversity of our cultures in our community that was there,” said Marchman. ”That was a wonderful thing to see.”
They played rummy and puzzles, and set up a dance floor—though Waller complains that nobody danced.
The lunches will be a monthly event, she says. In October, “we’ll have a costume party.”