Church serves seniors meals with a side of socializing

Home-cooked meals have a way of bringing people closer. Whether it’s a zesty side salad or a freshly baked roll with a hearty soup, it’s difficult to compare this type of lunch with a grab-and-go meal from a fast-food restaurant.

For seniors, such meals are especially important, not just for their nutritional aspects but for the doors they open to socialization.

That is why Lutheran Social Services of Nevada recently expanded its senior meals program. Seniors, their spouses and caregivers, as well as disabled people who live in senior housing across the Las Vegas Valley, can get free meals from noon to 1 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, 6670 W. Cheyenne Ave.

“Our senior population is a growing demographic in our community,” said Kim Fiore, client nutrition services manager at Lutheran Social Services of Nevada. “With this growth has come a growth in the number of seniors who experience isolation, abandonment, homelessness and an increasing dependence on others. Without support, our seniors often are at risk of loneliness, depression, and poor nutrition for health. A meal program such as this provides them with nutritional support not only for their bodies but for their minds and emotions.”

Meals are free for seniors 60 or older, and those younger than 60 can dine for a suggested $5 donation.

The menu changes daily, but it always includes a certain amount of protein, three servings of fruits and vegetables and low-fat milk. All meals are prepared by the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas.

Lead chef Jon Stokes of the Academy said that he primarily creates these meals by utilizing a 12-ounce formula that consists of 4 ounces of protein, 4 ounces of starch and 4 ounces of vegetables, fruits and juice or milk.

“We create meals that meet the state nutritional guidelines provided by the Aging and Disability Services Division, which requires proteins, fruits, vegetables and milk,” Stokes said. “For example, yesterday’s menu consisted of beef stew, with vegetables and potatoes over a bed of noodles served with a buttermilk biscuit, a small mixed green salad with low-fat dressing and a banana, with choice of juice or milk. This is one of many hearty and filling meals that meet the needs of the seniors who depend on this convenient and affordable meal to stretch their fixed income and meal preparation abilities.”

Participants at a lunch gathering on March 4 laughed and talked as they went back for seconds.

“What’s not to like about it? I’m surrounded by girls all the time, and I like the food,” said Abraham Amaya, 62. “The taste is fresh and part of a balanced diet.”

Ruby Nell Collins, 86, agreed, though her decision isn’t solely based on the greater female-to-male ratio.

“My husband passed away 16 years ago, and everyone at the church and at this program has become like a family to me,” Collins said. “We’re so blessed to have this program here. The food is delicious, and everyone is grateful to be here eating and laughing together.”

The program began last February at Reformation Lutheran Church, 580 E. St. Louis Ave., while Holy Spirit began serving meals in October. In December, Reformation served 543 meals, and Holy Spirit served 190. More than 320 valley seniors are registered diners; many come to eat more than once a week. Lutheran Social Services of Nevada hopes to expand the program to at least one more site this year.

The program is funded by a grant from the Nevada Aging and Disability Services Division.

“As a chef, seeing people enjoy the food that you have prepared or helped prepare is the most gratifying feeling,” Stokes said. “It is a testament that you can change the lives of people with food. The meals provided bring these seniors together, not only to enjoy a meal, but it also builds friendship and comradely.”

Visit lssnv.org or call 702-639-1730 or 702-645-1777.

To reach North View reporter Sandy Lopez, email slopez@viewnews.com or call 702-383-4686. Find her on Twitter: @JournalismSandy.

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