Village of Sussex — For the past 18 months, Bob Johnson, Barney Ross and Ray Stauber, all widowers in their 80s, have been getting together for lunch at the Community Center in Sussex.
"That is why I am here almost every day," said Johnson of Lake Keesus.
"It has been great," added Ross, who along with Stauber is from Pewaukee.
They are among hundreds of Lake Country seniors who can be assured of receiving at least one hot meal each weekday regardless of their income or where they live because of the Older Americans Act of 1963.
The law is intended to provide dining centers where seniors can eat and socialize together. For homebound seniors, the federal program insures someone will be serving them a least one hot meal each week day, according to Waukesha County officials.
The Community Center in Sussex is one of 10 locations in Waukesha County where an estimated 45,000 meals are served annually. Another 116,000 annually are delivered by volunteers to homebound seniors who cannot make it to one of the centers for lunch, according Waukesha County officials.
Senior dining centers are located in Brookfield, Butler, Hartland, Menomonee Falls, Mukwonago, Muskego, New Berlin, Oconowomoc, Sussex and Waukesha
Each senior is asked to donate $4 toward the meal. Individuals who are 60 years or older may participate in the program. However, their spouses may be 55 years of age or older.
The largest share of the program is paid for by federal funds provided through the Older Americans Act of 1963 along with some state and county funds.
While the food is prepared by a commercial caterer, the meals are served at the centers or delivered to the homes by volunteers.
In Waukesha County there is a shortage of volunteers, according to Mary C. Smith, a nutrition and aging services supervisor with the Department of Health and Human Services of Waukesha County.
Smith estimates about five volunteers per day are needed to help serve or deliver meals from each center for five days a week.
"We are often short of volunteers this time of the year because a some of our regular volunteers go south for the winter," said Smith.
For example, Bob Kolpack, 83, of the Town of Merton, is a volunteer driver who works out of the Sussex Community Center. He "drives all over" delivering meals to seniors in the village unable to come to the center for their lunch.
Karen Straw, volunteer program specialist, said "dining assistants" who help help pack meals for delivery and serve meals at dining centers are needed in Butler, Menomonee Falls, Mukwonago, New Berlin, Oconomowoc, Sussex and Waukesha.
Drivers to deliver meals are needed in all locations; however, the greatest need is in the Brookfield, Butler, Menomonee Falls, Oconomowoc and Waukesha areas. The drivers are reimbursed for their mileage.
Straw emphasized that volunteers of all ages are welcome. The number of days per week or month a volunteer is available can be flexible, according to Straw and Smith; however, the volunteers must be available between the hours 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Village Trustee Pat Tetzlaff occasionally lunches with the seniors, and she says there are more benefits to the program than just the nutritional value of the food.
"It is an excellent program. I think just as important as the meals, is the opportunity for socialization. There is a lot of networking that goes (on) and some of them stay after lunch to play games or participate in other activities," she added.
Smith said the program also provides seniors with educational reminders about good nutrition habits.
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