ELLSWORTH — It’s been over two long years since local seniors gathered at the Moore Community Center at noon for food and conversation. Friends in Action had started the lunch program in 2015, offering a homecooked meal and help in getting to the senior center.
Executive Director Jo Cooper had halted the program in the summer of 2019 to rethink it, she said. Then the pandemic hit in early 2020, and the senior center shut down, not opening its doors until July the following year. And while the coffee social hour returned months ago, lunch only resumed last week, on March 1.
“I walked in, and it just filled my heart to see everybody here,” said Judy Grohe, seated at a table for two on March 8. “And I think everybody else feels that way too. It really is a community here; it’s a lovely group.”
Sunshine poured in from a nearby window as Grohe and her friend Donald Carr enjoyed beef-and-bean chili, rice, corn bread, green beans and ice cream.
“Lunch was fantastic,” Carr raved. And just as awesome was “being able to see people’s faces,” he added, after Friends in Action adopted a mask-optional policy to match new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
Grohe’s husband is a volunteer driver for Friends in Action, so he missed the luncheon this week. But the tables were nearly full, after a smaller group showed up last week, Cooper said, when the program first started up again. These seniors are careful about being out among people but not scared.
“I am cautious, I think we all are,” Grohe said. “But we know everyone here has all had their shots and boosters.”
Across the room, Sally Francis echoed the thought.
“We got all our shots and boosters,” she said. “We’ve been very lonely, but we’ve been very safe.”
Francis and her husband were eating with Wayne Smith and C.J. Lavertu, a couple they befriended in this very spot several years earlier. So, until last week, it had been a while.
“We had people dying all around us,” Bob Francis said. “But they didn’t get their shots.”
The Francises are even thinking of hitting the road in a camper for some travel.
“Maybe to Virginia, to see our daughter,” Sally Francis said. “If gas goes up more, maybe just Bangor.”
The foursome’s laughter blended with conversations and laughter throughout the room.
“Coming here is the social event of the week,” Lavertu said.
Cooper said she worked to keep the coffee hour open once the senior center reopened apart from a hiatus when the
Omicron variant first hit.
“It was so important for people to get together,” she said. “The impact it had on people’s social life and mental health to me was more important.”
While Cooper is winding down her tenure at Friends in Action (she’s retiring), she continues to try and coordinate the Island Explorer bus schedules with the lunches, to make it easier for seniors to come.
“I think we can time our programming around bussing,” she said.
For now, lunches are on Tuesdays only, and people are asked to call Friends in Action ahead of time to sign up, at 664-6016. There also is a special St. Patrick’s Day lunch on Thursday, March 17.
“You can come and be who you are. Not what you are but who you are,” Grohe said. “And there’s an appreciation for that.”