It's been quite a while, but the seniors' $8 luncheons are back in the Almaguin Highlands after COVID-19 shut them down last year in March.
East Parry Sound Community Support Services provides the lunches in several Almaguin communities and program coordinator Leslie Price says they have been well received.
A short time back, Price contacted a health inspector with the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit on how to go about resuming the lunches.
Price said she “took a leap of faith” that seniors would still be interested in the events after they had disappeared for more than a year.
“I had no idea if people would go back or were apprehensive, but the response has been huge,” she said.
The reopenings began in September and Price said Community Support Services was on hand at each venue to welcome back the seniors.
Her concern about restarting the event, without first polling the seniors on whether they would still be interested, proved to be unfounded.
“They were so happy and told us thank you for restarting,” Price said.
“They were very happy to be mingling about again after being isolated for such a long time.”
Because the commercial landscape has changed somewhat from the pandemic-triggered lockdowns to now, Price said she had to find new venues because some locations were no longer open.
But Price lucked out.
She said every place she called about being a site for the luncheons said yes.
Price reached out mostly to the legion branches in Almaguin, “and all were on board,” as were the coordinators in each community who helped pull off the luncheons during pre-COVID days.
The luncheons are not simply a soup and sandwich affair.
Price said after deciding on the menu, each legion branch prepares a full dinner, which could be roast beef or pork, ham or turkey, in addition to vegetables such as mashed potatoes and carrots, followed by dessert and coffee.
Price says in terms of how the seniors are served their food, each legion does what works best for them. Some sites will see table plated service, while at other locations seniors may walk up to a counter, all the while following COVID-related rules.
Seniors need to RSVP their attendance at each site so the members know how much food to prepare.
However, before being allowed into any legion branch, Price said the seniors need to show proof of vaccination.
That also goes for the legion members preparing the food.
Community Support Services acknowledges there may still be some people who are apprehensive about participating in the luncheon onsite, or may have another reason for not going to the sit down event, but each branch has that covered.
Price said enough meals are made so that people who are concerned about appearing in person, have not been fully vaccinated or just happen to be under the weather can get a takeout meal, as long as they send in their RSVP.
The seniors' luncheons have all resumed at the legion buildings in Burk's Falls, Sundridge, South River, Powassan, Restoule and Callander.
South River has a second site at the Friendly Circle Senior Centre that can serve luncheons and caters to seniors on the fourth Tuesday of each month.
The lone exception where luncheons have not restarted yet is Magnetawan.
The luncheons used to take place at the Magnetawan Friendship Club before COVID struck, but for now, there is no access to the kitchen at the facility and Price says there is no place to prepare the food.
This is not a permanent situation and Price will be told when access once again opens up.
On average, the luncheons attract between 45 and 50 people, but the maximum capacity also depends on the size of the building.
For example, the legion building in Callander is large and can easily hold up to 100 people, while the Friendly Circle Senior Centre in South River can only accommodate up to 30 people.
In addition to the resumption, Community Support Services also is back with its exercise classes for seniors.
The classes returned over the summer and were held outdoors, where COVID rules were less restrictive, but have all now gone back to indoor instruction.
Yoga instructors or personal trainers, trained on human anatomy or who have proper credentials, carry out the classes, which are free and designed to improve a senior's balance and strength.
Here again, participants have to show proof of vaccination, as do the instructors.
The attached poster lists the locations and times for both the exercise classes and luncheons and how to go about reserving your lunch.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget