Amid talks of a community center, do elders really want a new center site?
People start arriving around 11 a.m. so they have some extra time to talk before lunch. They hang up their coats, greet their friends. The coffee is poured.
The conversations vary - from the news, to the weather, to last week's Nebraska game - and opinions in each case tend to be passionate and varied.
One thing they agree upon? The importance of having a place to gather at the Storm Lake Senior Center.
While a lot happens at the Storm Lake Senior Center, it is the ability to see friends and neighbors that is important - whether it's called "socialization" or "playing cards."
Throughout 2001, more than 10,600 meals were served at the Storm Lake Senior Center through the Dinner Date program. Dinner Date provides a nutritious lunch Monday through Friday and is sponsored by Northwest Aging Association out of Spencer.
"Those numbers are up a little from last year," said Floyd Courtright, president of the Senior Center's board of directors.
Dinner Date averages about 40 people a day, but around holidays and other events that figure can soar to 90 per meal, Courtright said.
"That's about all we can handle here."
The need to better serve Storm Lake's older population has been part of recent discussions revolving around a Storm Lake community center.
In both a Community Diversity Center plan that stumbled in 2001 and discussions of the Mayor's Community Rec Center committee going on now, a new senior center has been discussed as a potential key part of the developments.
Just one thing - no one has yet asked the seniors if they want a new center.
Some at the Senior Center feel the existing facility can provide the services it needs to provide, and they say they like being part of downtown Storm Lake. However, there can always be improvements, they say.
The Storm Lake Senior Center Board of Directors has not specifically been asked to discuss any of the recent proposals for a community center. Any decision would be up to the board, Courtright said, which also owns the existing site.
Courtright said parking is the biggest concern for the existing center. "Though one lady always says it's never a bad thing having a little walk after a meal," he joked.
Also in question is the kitchen equipment used for Dinner Date. It is provided by Northwest Aging Association, which also pays the cook and rents the kitchen space in the Senior Center.
Beauman said if a new community center does become reality, the existing equipment could be moved to that location.
"We'd love to see Storm Lake seniors get a little better access," Beauman said. "Parking is an issue. There's not too many places to park.
Regardless of the location, Courtright said it is important for people to feel comfortable in using the facility. Those who use the current center live up to that.
"I suppose you could say they take ownership in it," Courtright said. "It's here, they use it."
Earlier this year, the local center made a push to increase local Dinner Date attendance. They were successful and attendance increased by 10 percent over three weeks, Courtright said.
Dinner Date is open to anybody, but it is targeted for people 60 years and older.
The meal fulfills one-third of a person's daily nutritional requirements, which is an important part of the Dinner Date program, according to Cynthia Beauman, executive director of Northwest Aging Association.
"Part of the emphasis is on the nutrition of program," she said. "But another part is the socialization. As we get older, there's a tendency to grow isolated for lots of reasons.
"Getting out to Dinner Date is a chance for interaction," Beauman added. "Socialization is just as important as the nutrition itself."
While those who use the facility may not use the same terms, they agree that the Senior Center provides an important place for them to gather.
"A dinner is served at 12, but at 11 or a little after people start coming to sit and visit," Courtright said. "When they're playing games, they're visiting too."
Along with the recreation activities, there are programs available at the Senior Center.
"There is entertainment and education," Beauman said. "Sometimes we have different folk from Northwest Aging Association speaking on different topics of interest, such as rent reimbursement, the Iowa Priority Prescription Drug Cooperative, or how to access different services."
Other events have included blood pressure screenings and presentations from local groups and organizations, such as the county sheriff's office and the post office.
"Usually it's something the public wants," Courtright said. "And we've had our political persons once or twice."
Throughout the year, birthdays and anniversaries of Senior Center attendees are celebrated, and there is also a site council which makes sure the center is decorated for the season.
As well as structured activities, people can gather for a game of pool or an impromptu card game.
"The place is here so people can use it," Courtright said. "And people are welcome to come."
Funding is through a variety of sources, including the federal Older Americans Act, state funding for senior services, and local public funding through the board of supervisors and the city council.
"Local contributions also make up a variety of the needs," Beauman said. It costs about $5.31 to make each meal, and people are asked for a contribution of at least $2.75 to help defer some of those costs.
Overall Northwest Aging Association operates 39 Dinner Date programs in northwest Iowa. Those vary with the number of meals served a week. In Buena Vista County there are Dinner Date programs in Sioux Rapids, Linn Grove and Albert City.
Beauman said the Storm Lake Dinner Date and the Senior Center are good programs. "It's a super group of people there, with great cooks, a good advisory council and board members," she said. "They're all very supportive of things and they are a fun group to work with."