New Milford hopes senior lunches go from packaged to catered
NEW MILFORD — The meals currently served at the senior center’s lunches are prepared more than an hour away, chilled, loaded onto a truck and reheated on site.
But the town hopes to change that by applying for a grant that will allow the senior center to serve more nutritious meals that would be prepared in New Milford by local businesses or organizations. These more appealing meals will also ideally attract more seniors.
“It’s industrial food now,” said Carolyn Haglund, the senior center director. “This would be more homey.”
The grant is part of a national program to encourage innovative nutrition programs and services for seniors. It is offered through the federal Administration on Aging division of the Administration for Community Living.
The senior center offers lunch Monday through Thursday as part of the state-run Elderly Nutrition Program. Officials hope the grant will let them switch to the proposed self-run program, starting with a two-year pilot program.
“As much as they try to provide nutritious food through the guidelines, the fact that it’s a heat and eat meal means it’s not as palatable and delicious as if it was prepared locally,” said Tammy Reardon, the town’s grant writer and compliance specialist.
The program is expected to cost about $400,000. Based on the grant matching requirements, this means New Milford would be responsible for about $100,000.
New Milford’s portion could be covered with a suggested $4 donation from seniors who participate, among other methods being explored.
A large piece of the senior meals is to promote socialization among the seniors. Haglund said the lunches currently draw 30 to 40 people a day, while the catered special lunches draw much larger crowds. About 110 people came out for last Friday’s luau.
Seniors visiting the center for lunch can also learn more about the expanding programs offered at the newly renovated building.
“Once they’re in the door, so many opportunities become available,” Haglund said.
New Milford’s aging population is growing. The 2016 American Community Survey shows about 18 percent of the town is at least 62 years old, up from 14.1 percent in the 2010 census.
She said the catered lunches also have less food waste than the provided lunches.
Haglund, who is also a registered dietitian, said the current model is also not cost effective, and this new version would be a “win-win” for the seniors and local businesses. By preparing their menus in-house, the center can ensure the food is local and seasonal, which is healthier, she said. It will also allow for the center to create meals that meet the seniors’ preferences.
“Anytime you meet with people one-on-one, it makes the program better,” Haglund said.
Reardon said the town will go out to bid to decide who will provide the meals, though there are discussions with several partners already.
If accepted for the grant, the center would also be able to expand its lunch program from 40 meals to 60 meals a day, as well as add Friday lunches. This would bring the total weekly meals from 160 to 300.
Reardon said the grant is necessary to be able to offer the program because of the cost expected to run it.
She said it’s very competitive though, with only four grants awarded. Those winners will be announced at the end of September.
Haglund is optimistic though.
“We’re looking forward to it,” she said. “We’re excited.”