Dade County Senior Center Offers More Than Meals
“When the senior center told us they were closing because of COVID, it was a bad day,” shared Daniel in Greenfield, MO. He’s a retiree that visits the Dade County Senior Center every weekday for lunch and a game of dominoes.
“Sometimes I wasn’t well enough to cook. We were cut off, and we need this place,” Joanne, one of Daniel’s fellow domino players, added.
Melissa Netzer, the current Dade County Senior Center administrator, explained that the center shut down early in the pandemic; everyone assumed it would open its doors when other businesses did. But when it remained shuttered, Netzer, who also sits on the Greenfield City Council and chamber of commerce, started digging for answers with the help of two other concerned community members, Randy Daniel and Pastor Scott Houston.
They discovered a funding issue, a leadership crisis, and COVID-19 contributed to the permanent closure. “It was perfect timing,” Netzer said. Since all the local businesses had closed for the pandemic, the former administration decided to close, too. However, they had no plans to reopen. The senior center was simply abandoned. No more dominoes. No more daily fellowship. No more warm meals. It was a problem for the older adults in Dade County who counted on the nutrition and social interaction.
The closure took Netzer by surprise, “This [center] is very needed. Most of the seniors had been home for two years without any interaction.” Netzer was a little upset, but it’s fair to say, she does not lack determination. Although it was an uphill battle, she quickly pivoted from surprise to motivation. She rallied the whole community around the senior center. “I am the glorified cheerleader. I know who to call. We’re a very tight-knit community. I figured once we got started it would work its way out.”
Netzer, Daniel and Houston started fresh with a new board. All locals, all volunteers. They began to secure funding through grants, fundraisers, and sponsorships from community banks, churches, and businesses. She locked in the support of Missouri House Representative, Ann Kelley. Kelley made phone calls, raised funds on their behalf, and even helped serve Thanksgiving dinner.
Through their partnership with Ozarks Food Harvest, they received a grant for building improvements, as well as food for the seniors they serve. “Our food bill went to almost nothing when we partnered with Ozarks Food Harvest. They fixed us. It was a matter of night and day. They helped us get the freezer, the phone and internet service. We’re almost civilized!” Soon, things did indeed begin to work out.
Dade County Senior Center reopened on August 16th, 2021, and has been serving meals since. With their community’s support, they “operate like a well-oiled machine,” says Netzer. They have successfully navigated building maintenance difficulties, sustainable funding issues, and the challenge of operating with an all-volunteer staff. They serve nearly 2,000 meals a month.
Netzer says she has regulars who come every day to visit and enjoy lunch. “Some don’t pay because they can’t afford it. That’s fine. We fill them full and send them home with leftovers when we can.” She added that she thinks this is the only decent meal some get every day – whether because of the cost or because physical limitations don’t allow them to prepare meals for themselves.
Pastor Scott Houston agreed, “Our seniors go and thank the local businesses that sponsor us. There’s an appreciation here you probably don’t see in a lot of places. We know it can all go away.”
Ozarks Food Harvest is inspired by our partners at Dade County Senior Center. Working together, we can Transform Hunger into Hope.