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St. Croix County's senior meals on the rise

Randi Hanson, St. Croix County nutrition program coordinator.

Meals for senior citizens at nutrition sites and home delivery in St. Croix County topped 49,000 in 2011, out pacing the 2010 figures by nearly 2,000.

The number of meals provided through the Aging and Disability's Resource Center has been on the rise over the last several years.

Randi Hanson, the chipper nutrition program coordinator, couldn't be more enthusiastic about the overall success of the senior nutrition operation.

"Programs like this help keep seniors in their homes and independent," she said during a conversation at the Government Center in Hudson.

There are 10 senior center nutrition sites in the counting including, Baldwin, Deer Park, Glenwood City, Hammond, Hudson, New Richmond, River Falls, Roberts, Somerset and Woodville.

They provide home cooked meals and an opportunity to socialize, she said.

And a little pizazz has been injected into the standard institutional meals this year. "The food is amazing," said Hanson, "We have introduced pecan crusted tilapia, fruit pizzas and Southwestern salads in the last eight to 10 months."

"Of course, we still have the standard beef, mashed potatoes and gray," she said.

At the Baldwin Senior Center, institutional food trays have been replaced with bright dishes and seniors are personally served their meals instead of lining up to get them and the tables are bussed by volunteers.

"It has proven to be a faster way of serving the meal and participants enjoy not having to stand in line," said Gina Evenson of the Baldwin Center in the Wisconsin Association Nutrition Directors newsletter for November-December. Two other sites have adopted the restaurant-style service.

The 2011 totals included 28,287 meals served at senior centers and 21,017 meals delivered to homes for a grand total of 49,404. That compares with 47,464 in 2010 and 45,161 in 2009. St. Croix County is actually bucking the state trend which has shown a drop off in meals served to seniors, said Hanson.

Participants have the opportunity to donate toward the cost of the meal. The suggested amount is $3.50.

"Nobody is denied a meal because of inability to pay," said Hanson, a licensed private investigator who took over the part-time position with the county in 2009. Contributions for meals are confidential.

The meals are offered up to five days a week at noon at the various centers, most are four days from Monday through Thursday.

"Sometimes this is a person's only meal of the day," said Hanson. "The meals are big, so they can save some leftovers for dinner."

Hanson, a Montana native, worked in Los Angeles as a PI before returning to the Midwest and settling down in the town of Troy. She is a high energy person and very much excited with the success of the program which relies on the good hearts of a number of volunteers.

Hanson said the next challenge, is to find ways to attract younger seniors -- the "Baby Boomers" now reaching their 60s in droves -- and get them involved in the senior centers.

In the meantime, she is focused on putting together the program's second golf tournament fundraiser. The Golf Scramble is sent for June 22 at the Hammond Golf Course and all proceeds go toward meals at senior centers and the home delivery program.

A golf tournament two years ago was a success. "We raised $7,000," said Hanson, "that buys a lot of meals."