Change is coming to the Aging Projects Inc./Friendship Meals service in Harvey County.

The congregate meal service — previously offered solely at Grand Central in Newton — expanded into Hesston this week and will be coming to Sedgwick in the near future as well.

For both Hesston and Sedgwick this is a first, though Sedgwick Senior Center Director Daylene Beckner did note it offered a delivery meal service in the past. The congregate meal concept is entirely new for both senior centers though — with the communal experience being an important part behind the expansion into both communities.

"That's real important because so many people are isolated," Beckner said. "It'll give them a chance for having a meal and socializing with others. It's an affordable and nutritious meal. It's all cooked and it's coming to them fresh every day. I think it's a great deal, a great service that we're going to be providing."

Meals will be offered at lunch to those 60 and older at both senior centers for a suggested $3 donation, while recipients will also have the opportunity to get a take-home meal for each dinner (including a full weekend's worth on Fridays). Beckner and Hesston Senior Center Director Marla Sharp noted that delivery options may be considered in the future as well.

Recognizing the challenges some seniors face with meal preparation and costs, identifying food option solutions became a priority for Harvey County Department on Aging Director Robert Carlton.

“For the first time, anybody that is 60 and over is going to be able to have two meals a day, if that’s a need,” Carlton said. “No longer should anyone ever have to decide on whether they’re going to get their pharmaceuticals or have a meal. That’s what is exciting about all this.”

Additionally, with the expansion (facilitated through a Central Plains Area Agency on Aging grant), Hesston Senior Center will become the hub for all congregate meal prep in the county.

"We have a full commercial kitchen at our center," Sharp said, "so when they started talking about the actual project and considering kitchens for Harvey County, we just volunteered and said we'd be interested."

Starting off, Hesston is preparing its own meals and will gradually take over for the other county sites (likely starting in 2019).

Along with the delivery meal option offered in Halstead, the expansion of congregate meals means four Harvey County communities will offer such a service to its citizens. For Sedgwick, Beckner said that will likely start in 2019 as the senior center is still seeking a site manager to run the program at this time.

Reaction to the program expansion has been positive in Hesston so far, as Sharp noted several residents have already signed up for the program and nearly 20 people showed up on the first day (Thursday) meals were offered at the senior center.

Benefits of the program overall are pretty clear, but that has taken on added weight given recent actions that transpired in Hesston.

"Currently, Hesston has no grocery store, so proper nutrition can be a problem for some seniors. So we're just glad that we're able to offer this opportunity for them to partake in a meal," Sharp said. "We're just hoping that this will provide our seniors and others in the community age 60 and older an opportunity to have a nutritious meal up to 14 times a week, and also the ability to socialize, meet with friends, get out and that kind of thing."

Offered Monday through Friday, congregate meal menus are established by Aging Products Inc. of Hutchinson. Each meal provides at least one-third of the daily recommended nutrition intake for seniors. Volunteers are still being sought to help with meal service. To get involved, contact the host sites in Hesston (620-327-5099) or Sedgwick (316-772-0393).