Where friends become family
LYNDEN — As I mark two years of working at the Lynden Community/Senior Center, I look back at the crazy, wonderful time it has been.
When I first started, the center had been closed for seven months because of COVID-19. Meal delivery survived as an essential service and meal pickup had been started due to the quick thinking and adaptability of staff.
After I got settled in, our center handymen, Bill VanCleve and Tom Coapstick, our then-Board President Joe Branion, and I got to work refreshing the inside of the center.
Buckets and buckets of paint, purging, cleaning, organizing and sorting. Trips to pick up Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace treasures. Rehabbing the treasures and trips to Hobby Lobby and carts full on Amazon. Even though the Center was empty, it rang with our voices and laughter. We made a good crew.
In August 2021, after much planning and praying, the Lynden Community/Senior Center held a grand re-opening week culminating with an awesome outdoor performance by “Elvis and Frank Sinatra.”
Meals were back in person, Tai Chi classes were going again, and the problems of the world were being solved every morning in the coffee bar.
Although many welcomed the chance to socialize again, some were hesitant, and we kept the meal pickup option permanently as part of our meal program.
I am so thankful for the volunteers that returned right away to pitch in and make events and activities possible. For me these were all new experiences, never having managed a senior center before. I will forever be grateful for the experience and knowledge the volunteers brought plus the willingness to try new things.
Beside the volunteers, the members that returned to the center were wonderful. After the initial fervor of opening, I am grateful for the 4-5 members who continued to come to lunch each day. They invited and encouraged a few friends to come, and those people invited and encouraged other to come, and now we consistently have 20-30 in for lunch each day.
When the center celebrated Thanksgiving on Nov. 18, we hosted 116.
The meal program is a large part of the service that the center offers. It is an integral part of our mission. People can access meals in a variety of ways. We have a core of volunteers dedicated to delivering within city limits a hot, fresh meal to those that cannot make it to the center.
Our drivers wear safety yellow vests and have magnetic signs on their vehicles. So, if you see a slow-moving vehicle with Senior Mobile Meals on it, that’s us.
We continue to offer meal pick up at the front desk for those that are not comfortable eating with a crowd. And of course, we host a lunch each weekday at the center. Those that come in for lunch enjoy an FYI presentation each Tuesday and entertainment on Fridays.
Those that come in to share our noon meal come for a variety of reasons, but the one staff and volunteers hear over and over is how nice it is to sit and eat with friends.
Through the generosity of a donor, in our dining room we changed from long, rectangle cafeteria tables to round tables. This has increased the social and family feel of the meal. Some groups have staked out their table but are willing to invite a new person to sit down.
We always begin our time together with the flag salute. Haley Brown, our program coordinator, keeps things light with jokes sprinkled in the noon-time announcements. And we pray before eating. Before long, the friends have become family over the course of a meal.
Our center is so grateful for having been chosen as a recipient of the Readers Care Fund again this year. The funds go toward our independent meal program. Independent, meaning that we are not part of the larger Whatcom County program and therefore do not receive funding for our meal program. We charge $6 per meal. They typically cost $9.50-$10 to produce.
We keep our meal price lower by fundraising, seeking corporate sponsors, grants and through the generosity of efforts like the Readers Care Fund.
Staff and volunteers have heard time and time again how important the meal program is to the senior members of our community.
The week before our Thanksgiving lunch, we held Grateful for the Center week and asked people to share why they appreciated the Center.
We were so pleased by the response, and I chose a few to share:
• “Spending time with wonderful people who have given of themselves to make us feel welcome. Good to hear their storys (sic)”
• “I am very grateful for the Center and all the people who work there & of course the volunteers. Their programs are thoughtful they keep us seniors engaged and productive. I thank God for this establishment and its people.”
• “I have met many new friends in the last three months. Thank(ful) for friendly people!”
• “I thank the Lord for all the people that come to the Lynden Community Senior Center and who support it (in) all the different ways and Jennifer, Haley, Kim, Kristi, Elisa, Rachael, Tom, Bill. Thank you for Wii T.V., the computer room (new-2022), the complex puzzles, gym, library, the activities and Friday entertainment. This LC/SCtr. can only keep growing … it is so special.”
• And one simply said, “chicken enchiladas.”
The center does not stand alone, but is a reflection of the generous hearts of the community. When I started this job, I had no idea how much being here would come to mean to me. I feel blessed to share this journey with an amazing staff and board of directors. They all have a heart for the mission before us and use their time and talents to benefit the community.
Friends have become family, and according to the Dutch Bingo I have been playing, I’m related to most of you anyway.