Horizons, Iowa City expanding summer lunch program to target senior citizens

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - When school lets out for the summer, much attention goes to making sure students in need get the meals they usually are provided during the school year; but there is also a push in Iowa City to make sure the elderly is getting good, nutritious meals.

Staff from the city and Horizons: A Family Service Alliance, explained as a number of costs related to retirement and medication go up, often times it can prove difficult for older residents to have enough money for food. So this year's summer lunch program goes ages beyond those on summer break.

"We have this opportunity to blend two generations together," said LaTasha DeLoach, the Senior Center Coordinator in Iowa City.

The meals come from the Meals on Wheels kitchen Horizons operates in Cedar Rapids. Staff creates an assembly line as they put together burgers and fill the trays with sides.

But organizers are hoping the burgers serve more than just kids during the summer months.

"We had some conversations with staff at the Senior Center with regard to summer meals in Iowa City in that area, and the potential for doing an inter-generational meal site," said Sofia Mehaffey, the Community Health and Nutrition Director for Horizons.

Through the partnership between horizons and the city, they are hoping to turn the city-operated Senior Center into a place not just for grandchildren to eat those lunches, but for grandparents too.

"It can be a strain on anyone's budget, so we want to make sure that people have the opportunity to come down, have a hot meal," DeLoach said.

"A lot of people who are here are doing it because they need the meals," said Jacob Nyberg, a 17-year-old volunteer with the Senior Center who is helping with the summer lunch program. "And us few who can provide them, it's just really good for us to be here helping them."

"We're seeing costs of medications go up, we're seeing the cost of living go up," Mehaffey said. "We're seeing people making really hard choices between food and medication and their daily living needs. So we know that we fill an important role by providing nutrition for seniors."

So three days a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, hot food goes from the kitchen to families, with volunteers and staff monitoring the results.

"I am reminded when I see the smiles, the smiles they really break your heart," Nyberg said. "Seeing people come here, eating a meal, enjoying themselves, it really is heartwarming."

"If you have a need, if you want to eat, we're going to make sure that you get fed," DeLoach said. "If you don't have the funds or something, then we try to figure out how to work around that as well."

Monday, Wednesday, and Friday the Senior Center will host those lunches starting at noon. They are free for kids under the age of 18, for everyone else, they are $4.

For more information and other locations in Iowa City, visit our previous story.