In a matter of speaking, the Hesston Area Senior Center jumped into the deep end this past winter. Not only did it start offering Friendship Meals — a congregate meal service — at its location, but it took over the work of creating and delivering those meals for all of Harvey County.
On a normal day, Hesston Senior Center Director Marla Sharp said, the organization will serve up 16 to 60 meals locally and 75 to 130 to senior centers across the county. The senior center couldn't take on that countywide task on a daily basis, though, if not for the help of some dedicated volunteers.
"This program has taken off even better than we could've ever anticipated," Sharp said. "Having the volunteers is almost a have-to so we could do this big of a project."
A total of 15 to 20 volunteers assist through the week to help get those meals out — in Hesston and across Harvey County — both serving and coming to be of service in various ways.
Garry Ratzlaff was volunteered for the job, starting his tour of duty shortly after the meal program was launched. Now, Ratzlaff helps with setup and tear-down of the center before and after meals while also making sure things like drinks, silverware and condiments are out for guests before the meals are served.
Ratzlaff has a history working with a similar program for high school students in Garden City, so he was more than happy to get involved helping at the senior center.
"Somebody has to do it, and I enjoy helping and serving people," Ratzlaff said.
For Joan Augustine, the senior center meal program was a melding of two passions that made for the perfect fit.
"I love volunteering. I love working with food, so therefore I love coming here — even though I'm a 76-year-old lady. It's fun," Augustine said.
Augustine has helped with meal preparation for several months now. While naturally drawn to it, she was also looking for more to do given her history of service both as a former nurse and within her church, Immanuel Baptist of Newton.
What Augustine admitted she has come to really enjoy about being involved with the meal program is the people — both those she works with and those she serves.
"It's a hard job out there, taking these recipes for 100 to 150 people and putting them together to make them tasty, and I like the people. You kind of get hooked on it," Augustine said.
Currently, Augustine and the core of volunteers are trying to get Hesston High School junior Nathan Baldauf hooked as well.
Baldauf started volunteering a few weeks ago and, like Augustine, has come to enjoy the camaraderie and getting to know those people he regularly helps serve.
Like most of the volunteers, Baldauf helps with a number of tasks — whether packing the takeaway meals, serving the food or cleaning dishes.
Having that assistance is something that Sharp noted has allowed the program to deliver on its goals.
"I actually have people say they feel better when they eat a regular meal, a nutritious meal. I even had a lady come in just recently who couldn't afford the meals. It's nice to be able to see this service offering people what it was intended for," Sharp said.
Volunteering with the meal program is something that has also brought the senior center's regular helpers a good deal of satisfaction — something they encourage others to think about.
"Your life is much more meaningful if you're involved with volunteer work," Augustine said.
"If there's an opportunity, take it and help people," Ratzlaff said, "because it's a good feeling to help."
Meals are offered Monday through Friday at local senior centers for a suggested $3 donation. For more information on how to receive meals or volunteer, contact the Hesston Area Senior Center at 620-327-5099.