For some Gahanna Senior Center members, Free Meal Friday is providing a chance for safe social interaction in addition to a nutritious meal.
The Gahanna Senior Center, 480 Rocky Fork Blvd., is closed because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic with no projected reopening date.
It's a place where active seniors ages 55 years old and older usually meet for socialization and weekly and monthly activities, special events, various meal programs, and wellness and fitness classes.
Thanks to the Ashford on Broad assisted living facility, 4801 E. Broad St., the Gahanna Senior Center is providing meals free of charge to members on Fridays, thus continuing some of that interaction.
Ruth Elgin, 87, has been an active senior center member for decades.
She said she appreciates the food and interaction when she shows up at the weekly distribution.
"Every time we pick it up, even though they wear masks, we can see the smile in their eyes and hear it in their voices," she said. "They provide anything and everything you could possibly want."
Annette Rundio, Gahanna recreation coordinator, said the meal program provides an opportunity to check in and chat with seniors.
"It helps us and the seniors to see a friendly face, knowing someone cares and it gives them something to look forward to each week," she said.
Rundio said the Ashford on Broad has been a great sponsor and has provided full-portion boxed meals along with a small craft and puzzle.
"Gahanna Residents In Need has also been a huge assistance by providing an optional bag of groceries to those seniors who participate in the meal program," she said.
Carrin Wester, city communications manager, said senior center members place their orders no later than Wednesday each week in order to have a meal available for pick up or delivery.
She said the menu is sent out each week electronically to members on a mailing list.
Wester said over 665 meals and 100 care packages have been distributed so far.
She said the meals began April 24 and will continue through August, with an average of 50 seniors a week participating.
Elgin said she doesn't cook, so the meals provide her with something other than frozen dinners.
"One week was meatloaf with potatoes, and another week was a pasta dinner, and another was sliced roast beef with carrots," she said. "They have a good variety. You just roll down your back car window and they put it on your back seat."
She said the food usually lasts her a couple days.
"They also put a letter in the package with word search or crossword puzzles, and historical information for Flag Day. They give you information and trivia stuff. It's really interesting."
Elgin said the center ranks high on her list because of the services it provides.
"They go beyond the call of duty there," she said.
"I participate in everything I can. When the center is open, I run the euchre program and I play bridge. I have some health issues, but will get back to line dancing when I can."
Martine Collard, 74, said she has been looking forward to every Friday because she doesn't have to cook.
"What a treat," she said. "It's really nice. The food is good quality."
Collard said she made some masks for those who hand out food to return the generosity.
"We need it in these moments," she said. "You look to just go say, 'Hi.' It's fun. They recognize you, so you feel welcome as well. I appreciate what they do for all of us."
Gahanna Mayor Laurie Jadwin said the city wanted to make sure senior residents are taken care of even after programming was put on hold.
"GRIN is doing great work in the community, and we wanted to do our part to complement their efforts," she said.
"With the closure of the senior center, we needed to reinvent how we maintained our relationships and connections with residents. Providing these meals has created a way to encourage and give back to them during this time."
In addition to the Free Meal Friday, the center scheduled a Bingo and BBQ event on July 7.
Wester said additional bingo drive-in dates may be added later, depending on interest.