Since December 2015, some amazing dinners has come from the Senior Center activity hall kitchen almost every month. Experience a full course meal with a salad bar and dessert. Ruth Woods and Greg Maples are local award winning chefs that volunteer countless hours to create a food extravaganza each month for the community the last Tuesday of each month at 5:30pm.
“I want people to taste things they may not have the ability to taste around here,” says Woods. There are different items are offered at local restaurants, but once a month, the menus offers the closest thing to a good “home-cooked” style meal, complete with salad and dessert for only $7.00 and could be considered a twenty dollar meal elsewhere.
It is not really a “senior dinner” but a place where friends and family can connect. It is similar to going to a restaurant and seeing so many friends enjoying the same place. There is lots of seating area where groups of people can interact while enjoying a fresh meal. At one dinner Marilyn Cottingham said, “The best part is that you don’t have the dishes to do afterwards.”
The people behind the scenes do the job of cooking, serving dinner and cleaning up as volunteers. Woods is proud of her kitchen crew saying, “I cannot do this without them. They are invaluable and critical to the success of the dinners. My monthly crew is Greg Maples, Candis Donicht, Pam and Gary Sprague, Eileen Brail, Connie Merrill, Melody Low, and Georgianna Goetsch. Then, there are folks that fill in during crisis times (sick staff or staff on vacation). In fact, they are the ones that deserve recognition and appreciation, too.”
Planning a big meal has its challenges since there is limited area in the kitchen. There is no way to measure how many people will come. The crew works hard to shop carefully to make ends meet. Then prep time in the kitchen is a coordination of efforts so they are not in each other’s way and work at different times to prepare items. As people will find in their own kitchen that it is important to keep flavors separated, as Woods explains, “no one wants their dessert to taste like onions.”
“The coming year of dinners will never be the same thing twice,” Woods says. “I want people to experience many flavors or maybe even try something they never had before.” Woods has the option to cook creatively. She found that people like different themes. A favorite meal has been a menu including jambalya and shrimp with grits. One thing Woods cannot do is meet different dietary needs such as sugar free or gluten free. The size of kitchen makes this difficult to do.
Candis Donicht prepares the salad bar for the dinners. She explained, “We welcome everyone and we want them to have a good food experience. The beauty of the dinners is that they are not just canned gravy and stewed chicken plopped on a tray. It is not institutional [food]. We have a real chef that prepares almost all the dinners from scratch with freshest, best quality ingredients they can afford.” They also do what they can to buy local.
“It is a community dinner at the Senior Center and all ages are welcomed,” says Woods. “If people cannot come up with the full amount it is still okay to come. Sometimes others donate more and so it all works out. We just like seeing the community have a place to connect.”
Written by Janet Juroch -BCC Staff