Reposted from the Bend Bulletin, Written by Suzanne Roig, Photos by Dean Guernsey

For the first time in two years, the Council on Aging is hosting in-person lunches for seniors in its newly renovated Bend facility. Meals will be served at the council’s Senior Services Center, 1036 NE Fifth St., to anyone over 60 on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays through the end of the year, when it will begin operating five days a week.

Between renovations and the pandemic, it’s taken four years for the council to get its center reopened, said Susan Rotella, Council on Aging executive director. Meals are a key component of the council’s mission, and while it has done its best to offer meals for pickup at its center, the grab and go limits the comfort created by friendships forged over a meal.

“I can’t begin to tell you how excited we are,” Rotella said. “Our mission is to provide meals.”

Jeffrey Jacobs, a newcomer to Bend, will be looking forward to the in-person lunches. The 76-year-old moved to Bend about six months ago from Portland to be closer to his daughter and son-in-law. It’s been challenging to find his footing and make friends in his new town.

“I’ve been struggling to find my place and make connections in town,” Jacobs said. “It’s been a slow process.”

Jacobs planned to go to the luncheon on Friday and considers it an experiment. He’ll chat and be social and see what happens.

More than a third of the people the council serves meals to — in person, grab and go or through Meals on Wheels — are age 60-74 years of age and 27% of them live alone, according to the council’s 2021 data.

From July 1, 2020 to June 3, 2021, the council delivered 97,494 meals to seniors and served 54,937 lunches, according to the council’s annual report.

The renovated center is 9,000 square feet of what used to be called the Bend Community Center. It was purchased by the council in 2018 for $865,000, Rotella said. The renovations cost about $2.5 million that were funded in part by grants from the JTMF Foundation, St. Charles Health System, the city of Bend, Deschutes County, the Oregon Community Foundation, the Healy Foundation and the Bend Foundation, according to the council.

A former Meals on Wheels delivery volunteer, who has since died left $250,000 to the council, Rotella said.

“The construction team worked around our mission of providing meals,” Rotella said. “It was especially difficult the first few months. It was loud and dusty. And we were raising money as we were going.”

Last week, volunteers swept away the construction dust and moved furniture around to set up to serve meals. Contractors touched up paint, hung doors and finished floor installations, she said.

“It’s so exciting to see it all come together,” Rotella said. “We haven’t been open since March 2020. We’ll see a lot of our friends who have been coming through the grab and go lines. It’s just not the same having a conversation through a car door.

“Now we’ll have a meal together and see friends and get back to normal.”

Jacobs hopes that the in-person lunch will forge some friendship like the ones he’s left behind in Portland after living there for 40 years. Maybe he’ll consider volunteering, he said.

Right now, he plans to pick up lunch twice a week to stretch his budget, as many seniors do.

“I’m not much of an outdoor enthusiast,” Jacobs said. “Several people have told me that the first year or two was a struggle for them as well. It took them a bit. That’s helped me come to terms with the fact that it won’t all happen in the six months.”

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