BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN When Delano city staff learned Nov. 15 that Catholic Charities would be ending its congregate meal program in Delano the first of the year, they had two choices: stop serving meals altogether or get creative.
Senior Center and Community Services Coordinator Nick Neaton spoke with the city council and the center’s advisory board, and both made it clear that serving a meal at the facility was a priority.
“The noon meal has always been a centerpiece of our day,” Neaton said. “We had been in partnership with Catholic Charities since 1982.”
“Their reasons were attendance wasn’t good enough, combined with they received funding cuts that required them to cut 20,000 meals,” Neaton said. “They closed the Delano and Buffalo locations.”
Catholic Charities continues to provide Meals on Wheels to Delano, Franklin Township, Independence, Loretto, and Rockford.
Congregate meals, however, needed to start coming from somewhere else.
“Now, I had a cheat sheet, because this same situation happened at the Monticello Senior Center in about 2013, or so, when Catholic Charities ended their program there,” Neaton said. “They partnered with four restaurants there to serve meals there.”
Neaton took a road trip to Monticello to learn some of the logistics, from working with restaurants and getting food, to serving the meals.
Then, he started contacting restaurants to gauge their interest.
“Over the next few weeks, I was able to line up five different restaurants,” Neaton said.
Those restaurants are Brickside Grille and Tap, Dave’s Town Club, Mario’s Italian Kitchen, Pig on the Porch, and Coborn’s.
“I thought it was important to reach out beyond Delano, so it wasn’t just Delano restaurants because we also serve Loretto with Meals on Wheels,” Neaton said. “I went down to Watertown because Mario’s restaurant has been running a Meals on Wheels type program down there. I reached out to him because I felt he was already inclined that way to begin with.”
Each day, a restaurant provides meals in bulk. A volunteer transports the meals to the center. Then, staff and volunteers serve the meals.
Monday, 33 people ate lunch, which was a new high for the new program. Prior to that, the number of diners had been in the low 20s.
“I anticipate it will continue to grow,” Neaton said. “The word will get out and we’ll have more days like today. That would be my hope.”
Each meal costs $4.50 and must be requested by 1 p.m. the previous day, or Friday for each Monday.
The center is accepting donations to help pay for meals for seniors who might not be able to afford them.
“Catholic Charities operated on a sliding scale,” Neaton said. “The suggested contribution was $4.25, but it was an anonymous contribution and you could drop whatever you wanted in the box. We don’t have that program anymore because we have to pay the restaurants for the meals we buy. If somebody wanted to donate money to this program, you could donate that and we could make sure we get that money to the seniors who kind of relied on that donation.”
The center is also accepting donations for miscellaneous items such as to-go containers, gloves, hairnets, butter, and milk.
The goal is to continue business as usual.
“We’re just aiming at hoping to continue to provide this gathering place for people to get together and share a meal at noon every day,” Neaton said. “That’s what we’ve been doing for 37 years, and it’s what we hope to continue doing. It’s been pretty awesome to have all these willing partners to keep this going.”