Griswold Senior Center volunteers provide meals to seniors and homebound

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Griswold - posted Mon., Apr. 29, 2013
Mary Arnold of TVCCA stirs a pan of chili for the Griswold Senior Center's Monday Cafe Bistro program. Photos by Janice Steinhagen,
Mary Arnold of TVCCA stirs a pan of chili for the Griswold Senior Center's Monday Cafe Bistro program. Photos by Janice Steinhagen,

Loretta Watson is confined to her Jewett City home by health problems, so her daily visit from the Meals on Wheels driver is more than just a tray containing a hot meal. It’s her opportunity to chat with a visitor, as well as reassurance that someone is checking in to see how she is.

“I look forward to that very much,” she says. “Maria [the driver] is very pleasant. I enjoy her very much. She’s very caring person.”

Watson is one of between 25 and 30 homebound Griswold and Voluntown residents who look forward daily to their Meals on Wheels delivery. While the delivery drivers are paid staff members of the Thames Valley Center for Community Action, they depend on help from volunteers to heat, sort and pack meals at the Griswold Senior Center on Soule Street.

Rita St. John, age 87, is one of those volunteers who spends two days a week helping both with the Meals on Wheels preparations and with the daily lunch served to seniors at the center. She’s been volunteering for over a decade. “I just wanted to do something,” she said. “I always wanted to see what it feels like to work in a kitchen.”

St. John said she arranges the tableware, napkins and plates, helps with serving and then washes dishes and wipes down the tables with disinfectant. For the Meals on Wheels deliveries, she and other volunteers take care to bring hot meals to the correct temperature range, 165 to 170 Fahrenheit, then pack them into insulated containers.

Not all meals are hot, said Watson. “Sometimes there’s a macaroni salad or turkey salad, or a roast beef or ham sandwich,” she said. “They’re very well-balanced.” The meals always contain a vegetable and canned or fresh fruit, and occasionally even a cupcake, she said.

Watson admitted that she doesn’t necessarily like every single meal selection she’s ever been served – that’s a function of personal taste. “Everybody has different taste in food. You can’t get seven out of seven [days’ menus] perfect,” she said. But she’s quick to add that the program surveys its recipients regularly on their likes and dislikes, and tries to accommodate requests. “They’re very good about asking our opinion and input,” she said.

St. John, who has been a Senior Center member herself for 25 years, had to take a hiatus from her volunteer work for two years to help her husband, who was dealing with serious health problems. But as months rolled by, she found herself feeling isolated. “I wasn’t seeing or talking to anybody after being home all the time,” she said. When her husband’s condition stabilized, she decided to return to the kitchen a few days a week.

Tina Falck, the Senior Center’s director, said that the center is on the brink of an expansion project, which should include modernizing the existing kitchen. While the town is still awaiting word on funding from the state’s Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP), enough funds are now in hand to equip the kitchen with  more storage space, update appliances, add on side bays and improve sanitation in the facility, she said. A larger space will also free up meeting-room space currently occupied by several ungainly freezers and refrigerators. “They’re taking up space and a lot of light, too, if you think about it, since they’re near the windows,” she said.

The center is a “family” of sorts for many of its regulars. “You go in there and you feel like you’re at home,” said St. John. “Everybody is so friendly. You get a few laughs, and it feels good.”

Falck said that people who can spare a few hours around lunchtime are welcomed as volunteers. For more information, call the senior center at 860-376-2604, or e-mail


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