COLUMN: Senior Friendship Centers provides more than meals during pandemic | News

It has been refreshing to spend more time in the office over the past few months as we are slowly moving away from remote work. While working from home has its perks, it feels good to interact with my team in person.

During the initial impact of COVID-19 last year, we all spent a lot of time isolated from people we normally see several times a week at the office. And for many who are retired, the isolation was even more profound.

Debra Bragg, nutrition services director for Senior Friendship Centers, had to shut down their congregate meal sites last March with no notice. This meant many seniors who had made friends at Harbor Heights over regular lunches had no time to exchange phone numbers or email addresses. “They missed the interaction among themselves,” Debra told me. She explained that they created a telephone tree to connect while they were apart, finding one friend’s number from another friend.

They made a point to keep an eye on each other.

While they were unable to come together for meals at Senior Friendship Centers’ congregate meal sites, a hotline was put in place temporarily to quickly sign seniors up for home-delivered meals. More than 100 new clients were signed up in the early days of the pandemic.

And this gave those same seniors another set of eyes to look over them.

Debra said there were two delivery drivers who took healthy, well-balanced meals and nutrition information to those who signed up. “They became my eyes when I couldn’t see my clients anymore,” she said. Debra received several calls or texts each day from the drivers, alerting her to concerns they had for the clients they delivered meals to.

The dining site at Harbor Heights opened up at limited capacity in February and is drawing a regular crowd again. They are serving 12 to 14 clients three days a week. The goal is to open another site by June 1.

In the meantime, seniors age 60 and over can call the Area Agency on Aging helpline at 866-413-5337 to be assessed for in-home services, including home-delivered meals.

Seniors can receive seven to 14 frozen meals each week. Meals are created by a dietician and reviewed by the nutrition services team. Each meal is made to follow state nutrition guidelines and is sealed in the factory like a TV dinner. But the menu sure doesn’t sound like TV dinners to me. Turkey piccata, Hawaiian chicken with coconut rice, beef with broccoli and manicotti are all on the menu in the coming weeks. And in addition to the meals, clients will get bread, milk and fruit.

While the nutritious meals are the focus of this service, clearly there is more than meets the eye happening here.

For more information, please visit or call the United Way of Charlotte County at 941-627-3539. Mission: Mobilizing the power of our community to break the cycle of poverty. Angie Matthiessen is the executive director of United Way of Charlotte County. She can be reached at

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