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Ripon Senior Center lunch funding is slashed
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Ripon Senior Center staffers Kelly Skiles, volunteer Tiffany Staton and site coordinator Teri Silva prepare to serve a peach dessert to some 45 senior citizens enjoying the daily lunch followed by an afternoon of fellowship at the facility located at Fourth Street and Wilma Avenue location. - photo by GLENN KAHL

RIPON — The federal Older Americans’ Act that provides senior citizens daily lunches at Ripon’s Senior Center has seen a cut in funding that is limiting those meals to just 20 even though the average attendance has been 40 to 45 seniors coming through the door.

“The San Joaquin County Department of Aging has been struggling for awhile to keep it going,” said the senior center site coordinator Teri Silva. “This community is not going to let the program fail.”.

Silva said one older gentleman said he can’t afford to pay for his lunch, noting that he just wouldn’t come any longer.  She stressed that paying was not really the issue rather it was the socialization that the lunches bring about between seniors who might otherwise just sit at home.

“When they come to us at noon time, they often spend a few hours with activities such as creating art works and ceramics creations, using the computer lab, playing pool, exercise, play pinochle and just visiting away the afternoon in the 7,000-square-foot building.  It makes for a healthy bit of socializing,” she said.

One such couple is John and Betty Thomas who have been daily faithful attendeesfor many years.  John celebrated his 99th birthday on July 22.   His wife said he served as a resource for many of those years taking care of maintenance around the center.

“In a room filled with over 40 seniors, how do you tell 20 that they can’t come anymore,” she asked. 

She noted that the Veterans of Foreign Wars donated their silverware, adding that the center has also gotten donations from Save Mart Stores and donuts from a local shop in Ripon.

Silva said there are two car routes where volunteers deliver lunches to shut-ins throughout the community.  There are 10 drivers who cover the routes, one day each week. They are always on the lookout for additional drivers to personally deliver the hot lunches.

Bethany Home has been an ardent supporter of the senior center kitchen and staff and has underwritten much of the program to ensure its success. 

“I like the fact they can come in and do something together and get out of the house,” said Bethany Homes’ Julie DeArajau, a consistent supporter of the program along with Bethany Home General Manager Andrew Lee.

The makeup of the group is split down the middle with an almost equal amount of men and women enjoying each other’s company.

The senior center got its start in Ripon in the late 1960s when Bill and Kathryn Boersma along with Maggie Otten were vacationing in Oregon and stopped to visit a senior center there. They brought the concept home to Ripon.

The old Ripon Christian elementary school building at Main Street and Vera Avenue was empty and owned by the Bethany Home Society that lent its support to the plan for a center.  At the time senior citizens were meeting in various homes where widows and widowers got together to play cards and games followed by refreshments.

An organized group of seniors developed from a July 28, 1970 potluck at the Ripon Community Center that brought some 30 people together.  A second meeting was held shortly after at the Christian school building with 75 people on hand for that event where they elected officers for their group.   Dues were set at $3 per year for membership.

A creative group of women spent hours designing their own carpeting for the building out of free carpet samples.  It reportedly served the purpose with its colorful designs.  Blue Chip and S&H Green Stamps were donated to the cause to buy silverware for the center.

Smoking was prohibited and alcohol was allowed only on special occasions in those early days with the commission’s approval.  The original minimum age of seniors to be taken into membership was set at 55 and later dropped to 50. 

The current senior center was built at a cost of $338,000 with the cost of the land at $45,000.  The Ripon City Council originally approved a four-member commission that later grew to six commissioners.

The center coordinator said she is constantly looking for more volunteers to add to their ranks to help run the facility’s activities.