Keeping Seniors Healthy With Daily Nutrition
All the services and activities offered to its’ clients by Serving Seniors play a vital role in keeping seniors healthy, active and independent. One in particular, however, stands out as especially important. The Food Service at Serving Seniors serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week at the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center and five days a week at eight additional sites. 240,000 meals are home delivered to seniors annually. A donation of $1.00 per meal is suggested but not required.
The importance of the Food Service to the local senior population cannot be overstated. Food insecurity is an especially acute problem in San Diego County with its exorbitantly high housing costs. Two out of five seniors in San Diego County (40%) are forced to choose between eating adequately and paying rent.
Diane Sanders, the Food Service Director at Serving Seniors presides over a team of cooks, dietitians, and a rotating crew of volunteer servers. Diane explains that the function of the Food Service is not simply to fill stomachs but to provide nutritious food. A group of dietitians- one from the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA), and several from Valley Services, a food distribution company, prepare the menus and submit them to Diane for approval. The planning of the menus is shaped by several criteria. These include: (1) Nutritional soundness. Every meal is designed to provide one-third of the nutrients essential to a daily diet. (2) Appeal. The meals should consist of food generally presumed to be agreeable to most seniors. (3) Cultural Sensitivity. Menus are diversified to take account of the tastes of the various ethnic and cultural demographics represented among those served. It is not always easy to satisfy all these criteria at once, but the goal is always to come as close as possible.
When Diane Sanders came to San Diego from North Carolina in 1992 she did not have a professional cooking background. Her previous employment consisted mostly of factory work, much of it in North Carolina’s cotton mills. She had, however, done a good deal of cooking at home and loved to cook. Shortly after arriving in San Diego, she found employment, at a medical facility, dispensing medication. Within a few days, the facility’s cook resigned and Diane offered her services. The meals she prepared, consisting mostly of the rural southern cuisine native to her region, were enormously popular. Diane was less than two months into her first cooking job when one of her co-workers, Doris Larson, left to work for the Senior Community Centers, the organization that would eventually become Serving Seniors. Senior Community Centers was at the time in need of a cook and Doris encouraged Diane to apply. To her surprise, she was offered the job.
When Diane began working at The Senior community Center in downtown San Diego she prepared the same southern cuisine she had offered at the medical facility. The meals were popular but the cost of preparation was, in Diane’s words, “sky high.” But Diane was a quick study and over the years she learned enough to bring the Food Service to its present plateau.
Two events along the way were critical to her progress. First she met a county dietitian, Wendy Shigenaga, who taught her how to monitor vitamins and other nutrients. Second, around 2010, she began working with Valley Services, a nationwide purchasing company which, because of its size, can make purchases high enough in volume to keep costs low.
Diane Sanders is now in her twenty-fifth year as a member of the staff of Serving Seniors. Beginning as a cook in 1992, she received a series of promotions-to Kitchen Manager, to Food Service Manager, to Operations Manager, and, finally, to her present position as Food Service Director.
The Food Service at Serving Seniors is one of the greatest assets available to the senior population of San Diego County. Let us all take the time to offer a word of personal thanks to the staff members and volunteers whose hard work and dedicated service keep it going.