Lunches at the Patagonia Senior Center are now being eaten on the premises. As of May 1, there are no more take-out meals. 

When Gov. Ducey terminated the Emergency Covid-19 Act recently, the Center was advised by SEAGO (Southeastern Arizona Government Organization) that it must return to the provisions of the Older Americans Act. This act was established in 1965 by the federal government and was reauthorized in 2020, emphasizing not only the need of nutrition-related disease prevention, but also the importance of socialization for older people.

During the pandemic, the Center had been averaging between 65 and 80 lunches per day. The number of take-out, or “grab and go” lunches was increasing, while about 10 to 15 people were eating inside. 

Now the total number of lunches, served only on the premises as required, is only between 25 and 35. Many of the people that took lunches-to-go have not been coming to eat at the Center. A few filled out forms to receive a supply of meals for the week from Meals On Wheels, an organization that delivers to homes in our area from Nogales. The Nogales Senior Center, where between 70 and 90 lunches a day were being served before this change, is also experiencing a low turnout.

Why are so many people choosing not to come? Some say they are being cautious, concerned about the safety of a large group indoors, though about six people can eat at the two tables on the porch, which is “on the premises.” There are a few that have physical limitations that keep them from coming. Others prefer to choose their own way of socializing, such as eating in the park or somewhere else outdoors, with a friend or two rather than with a group. 

“Before the change, many times generous people came and took five or six lunches to their relatives or friends who were not ambulatory,” Helen Chester said. “Now, they can’t take lunches to them. I feel their loss. Our number of lunches are much lower now. Encouraging socialization and restricting take-out has not been altogether successful.” Laura Gaia agreed. “Though socializing is important, the way of filling that need can vary each day, and I think the option of take-out is important as well.” 

Clients of the Senior Center expressed differing views about the value of socialization during lunch. “I socialize all the time with dog rescue, so eating lunch is quiet time for me,” Sue Bergier said. “We need time to socialize away from home, but that should be a personal choice and not dictated to us,” Jon Larsen said. “I come because the food is great, and you can keep up with aspects of the local news – and gossip!” Philip Brister said.

A breakfast will be served every six weeks with an added nutrition education component. New vinyl chairs have been purchased recently which can be sanitized against virus transmission. There are new stainless-steel tables for food processing and a new freeze dryer will preserve food indefinitely, to be distributed during emergency situations, should they occur.