Catholic Charities Senior Dining reopened congregate dining rooms Aug. 2 in several cities in the Diocese of St. Cloud: Albany, Elk River, Mora, Paynesville, Princeton and St. Cloud. Additional sites will open in September.
Annie Henriksen, volunteer coordinator for Catholic Charities, said diners and volunteers at Whitney Senior Center in St. Cloud, where one of the congregate dining rooms is located, were excited to return.
“People smiled ear to ear. Diners were overwhelmed, appreciating hot and delicious food with their friends,” she said. “They waved across tables to friends and volunteers they hadn’t seen for a long time. It was amazing to witness this joyful social outing. It lifted our hearts to see them sharing and supporting each other, being together after these hardships. Volunteers and staff were just as excited to be serving.”
During the second week at Whitney, the program served about 50 diners a day, about half of pre-pandemic levels, according to Nora Ewers, site coordinator.
Eric Vollen, Catholic Charities marketing and public relations manager, said the sites follow COVID protocols.
“Masking is required before the meal and for all those who are unvaccinated,” he said. “Enhanced sanitation and social distancing requirements are in place to assist ensuring safety. Everyone who enters the building is screened for COVID symptoms and encouraged to receive meals ‘to go’ if there is a safety concern.”
Henriksen said that because diners come and go over a two-hour period to eat and socialize, the area is never crowded.
“We’re able to offer this service through Older Americans Act funding administered through the Central Minnesota Council on Aging,” Vollen noted. “However, no one is denied a meal based on their inability or unwillingness to contribute. People can mail in donations, which we gratefully accept. We welcome new diners who can complete their annual registration form upon arrival.”
“The hot midday meal contributes a third of a day’s required nutritional value,” Henriksen said. “Along with the daily hot meal, Whitney and other sites offer frozen meals that people can take home to heat in their microwave or oven.”
For Catholic Charities’ service in 2020 to guarantee senior dining during the pandemic, they were honored with a Circle of Excellence Award from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Vollen said.
“In response to the pandemic, we changed our model in 2020 and more than tripled meals, “ Vollen said, “going from 26,000 meals a month to months in which we served 91,000, by incorporating frozen meals, developing food distribution locations and partnering with food shelves — including Catholic Charities’ Emergency Services Food Shelf.”
“We couldn’t do this without the hard work from our staff and volunteers. They helped make what felt like the impossible, possible during the pandemic,” Henriksen said. “We’re always looking for more people to help.”
To learn more about Catholic Charities Senior Dining, visit the program’s webpage at www.ccstcloud.org/services/community/senior-dining, or call 320-229-4584, To volunteer, visit the volunteer page at www.ccstcloud.org/volunteer or call 320-229-4590.