Senior lunch program spared through June

May. 14, 2013 @ 10:21 PM

Thanks to the generosity of some local citizens and at least one business, the Lee County Enrichment Center will be able to offer its annual Gay 90s luncheon later this month — as well as put off cuts to its lunch program until July.

The budget for the center, which serves the senior citizens of Lee County, was slashed by about $12,000 in the federal sequester. That forced Senior Services Director Debbie Davidson to cancel the pay-what-you-can weekday meals on Wednesdays through September — and maybe longer if the cuts continue. In order to avoid getting rid of more meals, she also considered canceling the Gay 90s event, a celebration of everyone in Lee County who is 90 or older.

The meal cuts were supposed to begin today, but Davidson said thanks to six local donors, the Enrichment Center will be able to serve Wednesday meals through June. Davidson declined to name the donors out of respect for their privacy, but she said they gave a combined $2,750 — more than 20 percent of the entire cut the center was facing. The funding will also allow the Gay 90s celebration to be rescheduled for noon on May 29 at the Enrichment Center.

Davidson said when she informed some of the regulars, she got a rare reaction — vigorous applause.

“For these people, that’s excitement,” she said with a laugh. “For them to actually clap for something means they’re really excited.”

Enrichment Center Program Director Debbie Williams said she had no doubts as to why everyone was giddy about the news.

“They’ve always looked forward to it,” she said. “It’s a special day for them to get dressed up and come out and get honored.”

On the day of the Gay 90s event, Lee County’s nonagenarians will put on their finest attire and make their way to the center at 1615 S. 3rd St. with a guest, where they will receive flowers — a corsage for the ladies and a boutineer for the men — and have their pictures taken. A lunch will follow, as well as entertainment and speeches — all emceed by Margaret Murchison, news director at Sanford’s WFJA and WWGP radio stations.

“She’s just really funny and usually just reads out a bunch of funny quotes and things about getting older that make us all laugh,” Williams said, adding that the event is basically a special birthday party for everyone who was born in 1923 or before.

Davidson said the photo shoot has been sponsored by Sanford Health and Rehabilitation, and she’s still trying to tie down a corporate sponsor for the event as a whole in order to supplement the private donations. While the party is a big deal to those who attend, she said, it’s not as vital as the on-site and home delivery meals — which are the only thing some senior citizens eat for a variety of health or economic reasons.

“Gay 90s was last (in priority),” she said. “Not that it’s not what we were concerned with, but we really wanted to get the meals funded, especially the home delivery.”

Davidson said individuals or organizations that want to help the center avoid shutting down Wednesday meals in July, August or September can call her at the Enrichment Center at (919) 776-0501. After food, labor, gas and other costs are taken into account, each meal service costs about $415 to feed the several dozen seniors who attend each day.