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Charles City Senior Center reopening for in-person meals, bingo on Aug. 10

Charles City Senior Center reopening for in-person meals, bingo on Aug. 10
Cheryl Warner and Bev Grube prepare a chicken parmesan dinner on Wednesday for drive-thru diners at the Senior Center in Charles City. In-person dining will begin again on Tuesday, Aug. 10 at the congregate meals facility. (Press photo James Grob.)
By James Grob,

Mark Tuesday, Aug. 10 on your calendar, because it’s going to be a big day at Charles City’s Senior Center.

After nearly a year and a half without, lunch will be served in person that day. The menu will include hot beef with mashed potatoes, broccoli and mandarin oranges.

That evening, bingo will be back.

“I think it’s going to be good, because I’ll get to talk again,” said Cheryl Warner from Greene, who has been preparing the congregate meals from scratch at the center for 28 years. “We do talk to people as they drive through, but you really don’t have much time and I miss the conversations.”

The center closed down completely for six months in 2020, then found a way to open up for drive-thru pickup in October of last year. Meals are served on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday — and patrons can pick up an extra meal on Thursday for Friday or whenever they want to eat it.

Warner said that there are some regulations and procedures that have to be followed for in-person dining, and she will follow them and expect the diners to do the same.

She said the chairs will be three feet apart for social distancing, silverware will be pre-wrapped, coffee and water will have to be be served rather than have communal pots on the tables or drinking fountains. There will also be hand sanitizer available for people to use as needed.

Warner said the center is asking people who come to be honest and tell the truth as to whether or not they’ve gotten the COVID-19 vaccine.

“They are on the honor system,” Warner said. “If they are not vaccinated, they have to wear a mask.”

She said that people who are vaccinated can wear a mask if they like, but it won’t be required.

“I do see a lot of vaccinated people in the community that do have masks on,” she said. “There were reasons some people wore masks, even before COVID.”

She said that some people she’s talked to seem excited to be coming back, while she expects some others might remain cautious and take some more time away.

“If they choose not to come in and eat, they can still get a carry-out,” Warner said. “They’ll have to come inside and pick it up.”

Meals are served at noon inside, while pick-up meals will be available at 12:10 p.m. Cost is a suggested donation of $5 per meal.

Warner said she is looking forward to be serving people in person again.

“I’m sure we’re going to have some stumbling blocks at first, before we get it down pat,” she said. “Eventually we’ll get it back to the way it was.”

She said she hopes people call reservations in the week before, so she has a better idea of how much food she has to prepare each day.

Judy Hauser, who is on the board of directors at the Senior Center, said the board is pleased to be hosting bingo in the building that evening, open to the public. She said that Carol Bauer will be the new bingo coordinator, and she’s already getting organized.

“She loves bingo, and she’s really excited about running it,” Hauser said. “She has a real stiff curve here, because there is a lot to do.”

That night there will be free root beer floats, snacks, pop and water available, and Maria’s Tacos will have its food truck parked out front, and people can bring their food inside.

“Some people take their bingo very seriously,” Hauser said. “We’re hoping for a diverse group, though, where we can get some new people interested.”

Although one doesn’t have to be a member of the Senior Center to play bingo, people who aren’t vaccinated for COVID-19 will be asked to wear masks, regardless of membership status.

Hauser said that bingo games always have a big jackpot at the end of the evening, and the prize has at times been as high as $500. There will be many opportunities to win smaller amounts of cash throughout the evening, and other prizes.

Hauser said the Senior Center is planning some other special events in the coming months. Since 1985, the Senior Center has provided a social hub in the community for people who might have no place to go otherwise. It costs $10 to join, and some of the benefits include meals, available Tuesday through Thursday, along with different programs available throughout the week.

“What we’re hoping, once they get organized here, is that we’ll be having a number of programs again,” Hauser said.

In the past, programs started around 11 a.m. on Wednesdays, and included such things as a presentation or performance by a student group from the district, or someone from school administration. Sometimes public officials from the city or county would come to talk and answer questions, and sometimes musical groups will perform.

“It was really good when people in the community would come and talk about what is really happening in the community, rather than just stuff that we heard around coffee,” Hauser said. “We appreciate hearing the facts.”

Members can rent the center at a discounted rate. The center is used for bridal and baby showers and wedding and funeral receptions, among other events. Rentals cost $75, or $65 for members.

Paid for by donations, the building is debt free, with no monthly mortgage. Monthly bills include utilities, maintenance, upkeep and insurance.

In the mid-1970s, Charles City Mayor Leo Schula and some other local leaders helped form Charles City’s Senior Citizens Club, and initial meetings were held at the Carnegie Library in town. At that time, there was national and statewide sentiment to provide seniors with nutritious congregate meals, and several programs were launched.

Senior citizens in Charles City met and dined at various locales, and the outings became popular, so participants began looking for a permanent location, where the meals could be made and served and where other events could be held.

Enough money was raised, the property was donated by the city, and construction began on the building in July 1984. The center opened in June 1985.

Hauser said that the Senior Center is also looking for new board members. The board meets the second Tuesday of every month.

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