Senior citizens in Wellington looking for free, nutritious meals, along with social activities, will soon be able to find both, Monday through Friday, at the Wellington Community Center.
In partnership with the Palm Beach County Division of Senior Services, a congregate meal site will begin operations in January 2023 at the community center. It is the culmination of several years of discussions.
Village Manager Jim Barnes said that Wellington first approached the county about a congregate meal site before Paul Schofield retired as village manager.
“The county’s Division of Senior Services has a program that they operate at several sites, including the one in Royal Palm Beach,” Barnes said. “When we reached out to them, they were not in a position to establish a new site. This year, when they reached out to us, they were in a position to establish a new site and asked if we were still interested.”
Wellington certainly was interested and started getting all the moving parts in order to host a congregate meal site at the Wellington Community Center.
Breakfast and lunch will be served Monday through Friday, with the exception of federal holidays. Funding is through the Older Americans Act (OAA) and sponsored by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs and the Area Agency on Aging of the Palm Beaches and Treasure Coast.
“At our open house event on Dec. 13, we collected 40 applications to attend the meal site and 10 volunteer applications to help serve the meals,” Barnes said. “Additional applications were given out to seniors in need, and we expect to collect more applications before the programs kicks off.”
The Wellington Village Council approved an interlocal agreement with the county for the congregate meal program in September for an initial term of three years, after which it would be up for renewal.
Aside from the new site in Wellington, the county also offers meal sites in Palm Beach Gardens, Royal Palm Beach, Pahokee, Lake Worth and Riviera Beach.
In order to attend a meal site, eligible seniors must complete an application called a Form 701c, which is a requirement of the federal nutrition program.
“Once we receive an application, we review the information and send it to the Palm Beach County Division of Senior Services for finalization of registration,” Barnes said.
To receive free meals at Wellington’s congregate meal site, applicants must meet one of the following criteria: The individual is 60 years of age or older, or is the spouse of a person 60-plus years of age who eats at the meal site. The program is also open to people under 60 years of age, who are disabled, reside in the home of a person 60-plus years old and is accompanied to the meal site by the older person. People providing volunteer service at the congregate meal site during the meal hour also receive meals.
The congregate meal site program provides nutritionally balanced meals, nutrition education and nutrition risk screening for older Floridians, and encourages socialization and better health through disease prevention and health promotion programs. The meals meet nutritional standards by incorporating the federal dietary guidelines.
“Seniors who applied or are interested in applying indicated to us that as important as the meals are, the companionship and fellowship with other seniors in the program also is an incentive to participate,” Barnes said.
The county’s role in the program is to deliver the food to the community center. The village will staff the site using a combination of village employees and volunteers.
“I truly do think that while the provision of balanced meals for our senior population is a great benefit, this actually achieves an additional win to be able to provide the fellowship and companionship that these seniors want and need,” Barnes stressed.
He added that the community center is a site that many Wellington seniors are already familiar with.
“This is great for seniors who also participate in our other programs,” he said, explaining that they can arrive for breakfast, then enjoy the available programming, then have lunch. “That is a great day of activities and meals that they might not otherwise receive.”
Generally, the seniors are responsible for getting to the community center from their place of residence. However, the village has partnered with the local nonprofit Wellington Cares to support people who are homebound.
“With the assistance of Wellington Cares as our community partner, meals may be delivered to those who apply and are in the program but may not be able to make it to the community center for the program,” Barnes said.
The program, he added, will also help the village keep better track of this vulnerable population. “If someone stops showing up, we have access to the registrations, and then we can reach out to them for a wellness check,” Barnes said.
He describes the entire program as a win-win for everyone involved, and an important program offered to senior citizens in Wellington.
“Many senior services professionals agree that participation in congregate meal programs improves daily nutrient intake, nutrition status, social interactions and functionality in older adults,” Barnes said. “These improvements have the potential to affect health, quality of life and healthcare utilization for the senior population, and consequently improves the quality of life of our seniors.”
Eligible seniors who are interested in participating in the congregate meal program should call the Wellington Community Center at (561) 753-2484. More information is available at www.wellingtonfl.gov/2079/Congregate-Meals.