STAFF MEMBERS … Pictured from left: Sandy Lemley-Kitchen Aide, Maryann Griffin-Kitchen Aide, Deb Villalovos-Assistant Cook, Anita Ehrsam-Substitute, Peggy Wilson-Substitute. (PHOTO PROVIDED)
By: Daniel Cooley
The Fulton County Senior Center first began serving meals to senior citizens at a local church in 1977. One year later, in 1978, the center began serving meals to seniors out of its current location, at 214 Clinton Street, in Wauseon.
But those who first began serving the meals never dreamed of the growth that would take place 43 years later. Today, the Senior Center serves an amazing 600 meals, five days a week, Monday through Friday.
“I’m not sure how many meals we served back then, but even just eight years ago, we were serving 300 daily meals,” said Fulton County Senior Center director Sheri Rychener. “But we eventually grew to 600, just before COVID . During COVID, we were only able to serve drive through.”
“Once we reopened, we’ve maintained the 600 number. We actually lost about 300 people, but we have gained back another 300. We have served as many as 800 for special events before, but that hasn’t happened since COVID.”
But the question remains, how do they accomplish 600 meals a day?
“We are able to do it with the great staff that we have, including volunteers and substitutes,” Rychener said. “And we couldn’t do it without the volunteers and substitutes.There have been many times where they have just stepped right in when needed and really helped out.”
“Without the good staff, I don’t think we would have been able to keep the number of people we now serve. We actually have 1,039 seniors throughout Fulton County who we serve. But we don’t all get them every day.”
Rychener stated there are 50 full and part time staff. And it starts each weekday at 6 a.m., with head cook Kyle Wilcoxon beginning the cooking duties.
“He is a retired Navy cook and he is very highly skilled,” Rychener said. Deb Villalovos is the assistant cook and the kitchen aides are Sherry Bittinger, Sandy Lemley and Maryann Griffin. The food program manager is KIim Machinski. She finalizes the monthly menu.
“Our meal eligibility has to go through a dietician, to make sure that the health needs of the seniors have been met,” Rychener said. “And for any special requests, Kyle tries to accommodate that seniors’ tastes and tries to work with them.”
It is important to note that all customers have to get in touch with the Senior Center, mostly by phone, at least one day in advance.
“They have to make reservations, so that Kyle knows how much he needs to fix, each day,” Rychener said. “Particularly, for piece items, like chicken or burgers, you have to have the right amount. We don’t like to have leftovers, which will end up getting thrown away.”
“To get a meal delivered, a senior citizen (aged 60 and over) must be eligible,” Rychener said. “Otherwise, they can order a take out meal or come to our site for lunch. But they can’t just walk in. They have to make a reservation.”
About 450 meals per day are delivered and also taken to the Center’s four satellite sites in Fulton County. The other 150 are either served at noon, on site or for take out orders, also on site, at the Center.
Of those that are delivered, they have to be ready in time for the 23 drivers to leave by 10 a.m. Drivers then return by one p.m., at the latest.
A specified daily number is also delivered to the Center’s satellite places, in Archbold, Fayette, Delta and Swanton. There is one manager and aide (along with volunteers) at each satellite site, where there are also some meals to be served on site.
Rychener said that some of the seniors’ favorite meals are ham loaf, salisbury steak and beef and noodles.
In particular, this week is one where the volunteers and substitutes had to be on hand, to step to the forefront.
“It’s rare that they do it, but we had four of our staff go on vacation this week,” Rychener said. “I often urge them to, but they don’t do it. This week, though, Kyle said, you know, I think I’m going to take a week off to visit some of my old Navy buddies.”
For more information or to make an order, contact the Fulton County Senior Center, from 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday through Friday, at 419-337-9299.
Dan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org