St. Regis Senior Center is keeping people fed

by Amy Quinlivan
Mineral Independent | June 23, 2020 4:29 PM

It’s been nearly three months since the St. Regis Senior Center has been forced to shutter its doors in light of the pandemic. This however has not resulted in a break for the cooking team and staff, if anything business has picked up a notch.

Hazel Cromwell, a longtime St. Regis resident, is the head cook at the senior center. She’s been serving up weekly homecooked style meals to the senior citizens of the community since 2016.

Near the end of March with stay at home orders in place, the center chose to implement pick-up and delivery meal options for their regular Thursday night dinners.

“I think we’ve increased our numbers a bit. I’m not sure that it’s always because of the to-go meals, we’ve always offered that. But we’ve picked up some younger folks, some of the bachelor crowd. That’s nice cause it gives you a broader base,” Cromwell said.

With easier meal preparations and less clean up without the usual guests dining in and socializing volunteers like Patty Blair, David Walker, and Matilda Sink have shifted to helping with sanitization and prepping meals boxes.

Last year around this time they served an average of 24 meals a week, now they are dishing up 37.

Senior center secretary Linda Forest has created a calling system of getting in orders each week.

“Some people see that it’s my number when I call them, and all they say when they answer is, I’ll take two,” Forest said. “Then they hang up.”

Usually she begins making phone calls Thursday mornings and reaches out to about 20 people.

Other times, Forest uses the phone tree as a way of catching up with local residents.

“It’s become a sort of a check in call too, make sure everyone’s doing okay,” Forest said.

Having the choice to still get their usual senior meal every Thursday has been a blessing for most.

“That’s the biggest thing I’ve heard, is that they appreciate the fact that we are cooking but they miss not being able to come in and eat,” Cromwell said.

Tentative plans were being made to open back up for dine in during July, but Cromwell mentioned with the recent spike in cases around Montana, it’s looking like it might be sometime in August.

Forest, who is also a retired nurse, explained that the facility has to go by detailed state health regulations specifically for senior centers.

She said that they are taking careful precautions as they cook and serve the meals. As a reminder she noted that even those who are not seniors can partake in these food services. The senior center has always had to go meals but most residents didn’t realize that. Naturally some folks prefer to not stay and eat.

“One gentleman who is around 60 said his daughter keeps encouraging him to stay and eat and socialize, but he joked that he doesn’t want to stay and hang out with all the “old” people,” Forest said.

On the other hand, Cromwell said “People are anxiously looking forward to the interaction again. We’ve learned something out of this, people here I think are really starving to be around one another. We revolve around tourism and we are used to talking to people. This has been hard on a lot of people.”

Thursday mornings are busy for Cromwell and Forest as they estimate amounts for meal prep and make phone arrangements. They recommend calling in to order a to-go meal by at least noon.

The Mineral County Pioneer Council has aided in delivering meals to individuals who request.

The fourth Monday of the month is also regular dinner night for the center. For those interested in a menu for the month they can pick one up from the senior center when grabbing their next meal or reach Hazel Cromwell at 509-895-9240. If you’re new to partaking in the Thursday night meals Linda Forest takes order at 406-678-4255.

The senior center is always looking for more board members in the community, and this September they’ll be accepting a treasurer position.

“We need people to step up and do their part. It’s not a great big job, and we’ve been blessed to have people come in and help. If you want to clean come on in,” Forest said. “I think it’s important that we keep this place going for folks around, we need the comradery.”

Meal prices for seniors is $6 and for non-seniors the cost is $7.

Cromwell has noticed that meat prices continue to go up so it is likely in the near future that meal prices will too. The center is always open to donations.

“This spring we weren’t able to have most of our fundraisers, and silent auctions, or bingo. So, any kind of gift help,” Cromwell said.

Monetary donations can be sent to P.O. Box 174. St. Regis, Montana, 59866.