A flowered cloth covers the table where Janet Cooper sits with her aunt, a family member and a friend. The ladies chat with Thrive Alliance wellness and nutrition site leader Ryan Dodge as they finish their sandwiches, fruit cups and a drink.
The group has been eating lunch after their free Silver Sneakers exercise classes on Mondays and Wednesdays at the Brown County YMCA for the past couple of weeks.
“We smelled it. That’s what got me. We could smell it cooking. I went, ‘Oh my gosh, that smells good. What’s he having?’ So of course, we had to follow (the smell),” Nancy Cooper said.
“We just came to check it out, and then we liked the food, so we keep coming back,” Fern Hendershot said.
Dodge isn’t just there to socialize. He’s there to serve nutritious meals and make sure the site runs smoothly.
He is in the former Head Start room at the Y from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday to answer questions about the services Thrive Alliance offers.
Free lunch is one of those services. It’s served at 11:30 a.m. on weekdays to anyone 60 or older.
“We want to get people out of isolation and engaging with each other,” said Abby Garcia, Thrive Alliance’s wellness and nutrition manager.
“It’s easy to become isolated in Brown County, because Nashville isn’t always easily accessible,” Dodge said.
Filling a need
In 2013, 32 Brown County seniors completed surveys from Thrive Alliance. Sixteen percent reported having at least a minor problem with having enough to eat.“We do get feedback from a lot of our seniors across the five counties that if we didn’t serve this lunch, they would not be eating,” Garcia said.
Fifteen percent of Brown County seniors surveyed in 2013 reported visiting a nutrition/meal site.
Thrive Alliance served meals at Willow Manor Apartments, across the street from the Y, for three years, but they were not reaching many people who did not live there.
“People just assumed it was for the people who lived at Willow Manor,” Garcia said.
“That’s the main reason why we moved here, because this is a much more community-centered public place.”
Before Willow Manor opened, Thrive Alliance used to serve free lunches at Sycamore Valley Senior Center in Nashville. Sycamore Valley has since closed.
The Senior Nutrition Program site opened April 11 at the YMCA. During the week of June 6, Dodge said he was on track to serve 35 to 40 meals.
“We’ve seen a lot of growth at lunch time. The conversation with the seniors is always really joyful and exciting because you get to hear Brown County gossip from the 1950s,” Dodge said.
The Brown County Access bus also provides free transportation to lunch for anyone 60 or older if they call ahead to schedule a trip.
Garcia said a man from Freetown rides that bus 30 minutes each way to get his free lunch.
The Y already was in a good position to become a meal site.“We are surrounded by two apartment buildings that are 55 and over and the nursing home. It’s kind of a no-brainer,” YMCA executive director Kim Robinson said.
Access Brown County’s ride dispatch center also operates out of the Y.
“I think the senior population in this county is getting older. … I hope we can enhance their lives and give them something to look forward to,” Robinson said.
Earlier this year, plans had been in works to open a daycare that would share space with the meal site. That would have allowed senior citizens to do activities with preschool-aged children.
Problems with 501(c)3 licensing prevented the daycare from opening, Robinson said. However, she is still open to the idea.
“My big dream was to have intergenerational, to have childcare, then have the seniors come and read to the kids,” she said.