Spring Grove residents Harriet Esse, Evelyn Laine and Harriet Chandler enjoy a senior meal on Thursday, Oct. 10, at the Spring Grove American Legion.
Spring Grove residents Harriet Esse, Evelyn Laine and Harriet Chandler enjoy a senior meal on Thursday, Oct. 10, at the Spring Grove American Legion.
As Spring Grove's Senior Dining celebrates its 40th anniversary, there is concern about the program's future in the community.

Spring Grove's Senior Dining program began in 1973 at Rose's Café. They have served seniors hot, nutritious meals every weekday since. Since 1981, they have been serving meals at the current location at the American Legion in downtown Spring Grove.

Kris Olson, site co-manager from Spring Grove's program, reported that they have about six to 12 diners on site at the Spring Grove American Legion and about 13 meals on wheels participants on a daily basis. "That's really a point we would like to stress is the low numbers - especially in a town like Spring Grove. We are in need of diners very badly.... I do feel the program could be at risk - different sites in southeastern Minnesota have closed or have lost part of the program (due to low participation).

Funding for the program comes from three sources, reported site co-manager Jennifer Wiste. These include dinner donations, state and federal aid, and community fundraising.

Debbie Betthauser, senior services director with Semcac (Southeastern Minnesota Community Action Corporation), which operates the Spring Grove location, confirmed they are currently looking over their current operations to see where people are participating and how they can effectively use funding. "This is a difficult time for our program as the funding for next year will have sharp cuts at the federal level," said Betthauser. "(This is) the first time in 40 years we are having to make cuts; it is very sad."

The cuts that Betthauser is referring to are the federal sequestration cuts early this year that will go into effect in 2014. While senior-dining locations may have cuts, they will try to avoid cutting the meals on wheels programs. "We will try hard not to touch the meals on wheels programs (in the area)," Betthauser said.

Betthauser said they should know how the cuts will impact local communities in early November. However, sites will not see any changes until after the New Year. "We are sure there will be changes; we just don't know what they will be."

Olson stressed that the program in Spring Grove offers a great deal more than just senior meals. "It just seems like so many of our senior citizens could take advantage of the exercise programs, the fellowship, bingo twice a week and educational programs on Mondays."

Program participant Harriet Esse of Spring Grove said she comes for senior dining almost every weekday. "No cooking for one person, less shopping - why not?" Esse said. "We can't figure out why others don't want to come." Another participant, Evelyn Laine said, "It's about being with company and feeling useful dishing up meals for others (for meals on wheels).

A party to celebrate the program's 40 years in the community will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 23, at the Spring Grove Legion at 10:15 a.m. Arland Folstad and Glen Alstad will provide music. Reservations are required by noon on Monday, Oct. 21, by calling 498-3385.