TH seniors unite daily over food and laughter
A trip to the hospital isn't always a happy occasion, but for a group of about 20 seniors, the daily trek to Lake View Hospital is something to which they look forward.
The hospital hosts a lunch every weekday for seniors, offering a nutritionally-balanced, home-cooked meal for just $3.50. That's where Emmert Johnson, 93, has his daily midday meal.
"I was hungry," he said with a laugh when asked why he started going. "They've got good food here for the price," he added more seriously.
The lunches are sponsored by the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency, and a number of businesses have played host to the meals throughout the years. Laura von Goertz, the manager of nutrition services at the hospital, said she's seen the number of regular diners double since she started at Lake View three years ago.
"They absolutely love it," von Goertz said.
That was evident on Monday as diners started trickling in and taking their seats, sipping on coffee and chatting as they waited for the cooks to serve them each a plate of meatloaf and creamed potatoes. Judie Ernest, the youngest diner at 69, worked as a caterer and loves to cook, but said that she enjoys the opportunity to socialize.
"I love it. We have fun here, it's very cheerful," Ernest said.
The only requirement for the daily lunch is that the diner be over the age of 60 - meaning the room is full of seniors of all ages and income levels. Some love to cook and others have never set foot in the kitchen. A number of couples attend, like von Goertz's grandparents, and are seated alongside widows and widowers. Some are new to town and others have spent their entire lives in Two Harbors.
It's a diverse group, but they've become close over their daily hot lunches.
"They're kind of like a family. It gets noisy in there, there's so much laughter," von Goertz said.
The lunches are part of the Arrowhead Senior Nutrition Services, which also pays for Meals on Wheels, a service that delivers daily meals to homebound seniors. The network created by these programs is a benefit to the seniors, von Goertz said.
"It's kind of like another set of eyes," she said. If a senior doesn't show up for the daily lunch or doesn't answer the door for a Meals on Wheel volunteer, the coordinators will check up to make sure he or she is safe and doing well.
Though the service doesn't operate on holidays, von Goertz said they'll celebrate birthdays with sundaes and the birthday song and get into the spirit in the weeks before major holidays. Ernest, who worked as a decorator for a time, brought a small Christmas tree and wall-hanging to spruce up their lunchroom for the upcoming yule season.
While socializing is a big part of the meals, von Goertz said the menu, which she designs to fit federal standards, provides important nutrition to the seniors.
"We see so many people that come into the hospital malnourished and it puts you at greater risk of weakened immune system, muscle loss, greater risk of falls, managing chronic disease ... (nutrition) is huge," she said.
Offering main dishes like beer-battered fish, chicken Kiev and honey mustard pork, the lunches are not only nutritious but substantial and appetizing, too. Though Johnson said, tongue-in-cheek, that he's still waiting for a T-bone steak, the seniors agree they love the food.
"They are just so appreciative," von Goertz said.