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Fridays offer friendship and free lunch for seniors in Myakka City

Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee hosts a senior program every Friday at the Myakka Family Worship Center.

Helen Lehman and Lois Kersey are both in their 90s.
Helen Lehman and Lois Kersey are both in their 90s.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
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TGIF has taken on a new meaning for seniors living in Myakka City.  

Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee opened a Friendship Dining Center at the Myakka Family Worship Center that will be open on Fridays. On Oct. 6, the dining room was filled with conversation, laughter and the smell of beef and bean chili. 

Lois Kersey, 92, was seated at the table, but she used to be the one serving the meals. She worked for Meals on Wheels in Myakka City for 14 years and has been retired for 10 years. 

Kersey said it was 2000 when Meals on Wheels started delivering meals around Myakka. Costs were too high the first year to continue daily deliveries, so they slowed down the service to weekly deliveries.

“For a while that kind of worked, but we’re talking about people who are kind of lonely, and they enjoyed the company of me coming,” Kersey said. “All they need is just a little attention. More than their meal, that’s what older people need.”

The dining center serves well-rounded, healthy meals, but the program is focused around socializing. Diners play cards and learn new skills. Participants get a chance to share their own skills, too. 

Ken Harwick, 82, had a stroke a year and a half ago. His daughter, Lori McGregor, brings him to the center. Harwick has a talent for chalk art and wood carving. 

Program participant Ken Harwick's shirt features one of his drawings. He led the group in an art class.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer

“I do sculptures and carvings, it’s all Southwestern stuff — eagles, bears, Indians and all that,” he said.  

Carvings are too complicated to cover in under an hour, so he taught the group how to draw a horse with chalk instead. 

Another member will be leading the group through decoupaging a gourd in an upcoming session, and the staff brings their special skills, too. On Oct. 13, Dining Center Coordinator Donna Broecker will be planting garden pots with the group. 

“It’s enriching for them,” Broecker said. “I feel like it keeps them young, gives them a sense of purpose, gives them somewhere to go and makes them feel welcome and supported.”

Each week offers something new and fun from arts and crafts to armchair travel. An armchair travel day to England included tea and crumpets. The staff dressed like the king and queen wearing crowns and royal robes. Guests learned about English cuisine, customs and landmarks. On Oct. 20, the group will be armchair traveling to Brazil.  

While guests are free to come and go, the day is scheduled with activities from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. starting with breakfast. After breakfast, there’s an activity, such as a puzzle, to get the brainwaves flowing and then some chair exercises to get the blood flowing.  

McGregor said she’ll start doing the same chair routine with her dad at home. The program is designed for those 60 and older, but drivers and caretakers are welcome to stay and participate, too. 

It’s best to sign up ahead of time, so the staff is better prepared, but walk-ins will always be accommodated. 

“If they come and they like the program and would like to continue being members, then we’ll do their assessment on the spot and get them enrolled,” Director of Client Activities Stefanie Guido said. “They just have to be over 60 years old and live in Manatee County.”

Guests get more than lunch at the Friendship Dining Center. On Oct. 6, diners played cards and learned how to draw a horse using chalk.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer

Guido describes the Friendship Dining Center as a lifelong learning center that offers an opportunity to socialize and laugh. 

With 15 members so far, the room was lively. Cheers erupted around the table when 98-year-old Helen Lehman won a round of Trash, the card game of the day. Lehman’s daughter drives her each week. 

“I like the food and playing cards, but I really enjoy getting to know everybody,” Lehman said.   



Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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