Manteca City Manager Karen McLaughlin moved about the dining hall at the Manteca Senior Center, shuffling between pockets of people.
She sat only briefly during Wednesday morning’s first edition of “Coffee with the Staff,” an hour-long social meant to bring together the city’s staff and seniors.
The conversations were quite diverse, ranging from local and national politics to simple introductions to feedback about the senior center.
McLaughlin fielded concerns on unleashed dogs running amuck through neighborhoods to the city’s ability to help veterans procure benefits. She also listened as others shared intimate details of their lives, such as surgeries and medical conditions.
“I thought the first ‘Coffee with the Staff’ event went very well. I’m so happy (Senior Center Recreation Supervisor Brandy Clark) decided to set this up, and I look forward to attending each month,” McLaughlin wrote in an e-mail to The Bulletin. “We have such a great group of seniors who frequent the center, and I’m glad they felt as comfortable approaching me as they did.
“I see many of their faces at different events, but don’t often have the chance to speak with them one on one.”
McLaughlin was joined by members of the Parks and Recreation Department, Manteca Senior Center and Manteca Police Department.
Parks and Recreation Director Mark Hall and deputy director Bruce Mulder stayed close to the coffee, juice and pastries, greeting those that happened by.
Hall and Mulder spoke at length with Clinton Boersma, a Vietnam veteran and member of the John Birch Society.
A passionate fellow with a riveting past, Boersma regaled Hall and Mulder with stories from his time in the Air Force – “This is a hat I picked up in Australia,” he said – assortment of odd injuries and war flashbacks.
He later spoke about global relations, the outsourcing of American jobs and corporate greed, as well as the value of silver and gold.
“This gives us a chance, in some ways, to put a face to the name,” said Hall, whose department has direct oversight of the Manteca Senior Center. “We hear a lot about the different seniors and this gives them the opportunity to see us.
“It’s also a chance to talk about anything – good, bad or indifferent – in an informal setting.”
The atmosphere was casual and the crowd was unusually thin for a morning that also featured Bingo. The dining hall would have been at capacity for this meet-and-greet, promised Bobbie Brickman, a bubbly, white-haired senior, but many of the regulars were on their way to Black Oak Casino.
“We usually have a full house,” she smiled.
The center brings Brickman great pride. She’s been a member of its advisory board for the last four years.
She’s convinced Manteca’s senior center is unrivaled in the Central Valley; that it provides more resources and activities for its seniors than most others.
“I’ve visited other centers and ours really is the best,” she said. “We don’t have any problems.”
Nothing major, anyway.
“We might have to wait a little while for the plumber if we need one,” she quipped, her dangly earrings bouncing to the rhythm of her laughter.
Approximately 40 seniors filled the hall during the hour-long social, and not all came to meet McLaughlin, Hall, Mulder and the others.
Wednesday’s main attraction: The food bar, as prepared and served by volunteer Marie Vargas.
There was a bountiful selection, too, from pastries with chocolate drizzle to those with custard filling. There was plenty of coffee, and juice for those seeking an alternative.
A group of four ladies who did not identify themselves gathered at the table nearest the door.
When asked if they had any issues they’d like to address with the city staff, no one felt compelled to break the circle.
Instead, they went about their morning – chewing on crackers and sipping coffee – as if McLaughlin and the others weren’t in the room.
“Coffee with the Staff” will be held on the second Wednesday of each month from 8:30-9:30 a.m.
“I think it went really, really well,” said host Brandy Clark, recreation supervisor at the center. “People came just for that event – a lot of people that don’t typically come at that time. They’ll tell others, and I think this event will grow by word of mouth.”