Seniors streamed into the Baker City Senior Center on Tuesday, July 20, eager to reconnect with old friends over spaghetti, garlic bread, vegetables and tapioca pudding.
It was the first on-site lunch at the Center since March 17, 2020.
The next day the facility, operated by Community Connection of Baker County at 2810 Cedar St., was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since then Community Connection has served takeout meals on weekdays, and seen a major increase in Meals on Wheels requests.
But on Tuesday the doors reopened for lunch, which is served from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Colleen Anderson, who has been meeting her friend Connie for lunch every Tuesday at the Center for years. “We’ve been waiting for this a long time.”
Colleen and Connie kept up their weekly lunch date even when the Center was closed for 16 months. Colleen would pick up the takeout meals and the two would meet at her house.
“Doesn’t this just raise your spirits?” Nadine Guymon said Tuesday, gesturing to the balloons and streamers draped across the ceiling. A “Welcome Back” banner greeted lunch-goers in the dining room, and there were door prizes to celebrate the occasion as well. The winners would receive a collapsible garden bag, candles, locally grown honey jars, an umbrella light and a wind chime.
Albertsons donated several boxes of vanilla and chocolate cupcakes to go with the meal.
The chef made enough meals to feed 100 people, and there were coffee and tea stations where people could catch up before lunch. One group of friends joyfully greeted each other at the table they’ve been sitting at for decades, before COVID-19 broke up the daily lunch date.
“We all love it,” Barbara Burton said. “We used to come here every day.”
Burton and her five friends were busy chatting after nearly a year and a half of separation. One absence was particularly felt at the table, as one of the group’s regulars has since passed away. While his friends wish he were still there to enjoy the reunion, the rest of the group was overjoyed to be back together again.
Joe Hayes, manager of Community Connection of Baker County, is also glad to be up and running with the in-person lunches.
“We’re ready to go,” he said.
Lunches are served at the Center every weekday from 11:30 to 12:30 p.m. The meals cost $5 for those 60 and older, and $7.50 for everyone else.