MANSFIELD -- Anne John of Shelby admitted she was a little apprehensive about taking part in the Campus Dining Program, not knowing what exactly to anticipate.
Much to her delight, it exceeded all expectations.
"It's more than what I thought," she said.
The Campus Dining Program is a federally-funded congregate meal site that offers fresh, healthy breakfast or lunch to adults age 60 and over at the Ohio State Mansfield/North Central State College campus in the Marketplace cafeteria.
The program is made possible through a collaboration between the two colleges and the Ohio District 5 Area Agency on Aging.
"It's all about the partnership," said Dr. Dorey Diab, president of North Central State College. "It's about the community coming together to take care of this community."
Congregate meal sites are often held at senior centers and are funded by the Older Americans Act. They are meant to provide a nutritious, well-balanced meal to adults age 60 and older.
"These are happening all across the United States, all across Ohio and all across the nine counties that the Area Agency serves," said Teresa Cook, chief of marketing and development at the Area Agency.
Even the Area Agency's office in Ontario is a congregate meal site that offers lunch to seniors every Tuesday.
One of the key parts of a congregate meal site, in addition to providing a healthy meal, is the social interaction.
"We know that social isolation is something that's getting bigger every day with the older population, so that's where that congregate meal site can come in," Cook said.
What makes the Campus Dining Program different from other congregate meal sites is that it offers a wide selection of food, flexible hours, inter-generational connections and on-campus programming.
Cook said program participants value these features.
"They love the fresh food, the fantastic salad bar," she said. "They love coming to the campus and talking to the students."
Some of the participants have grandchildren who are students on campus and enjoy having the opportunity to dine together.
"The interaction has been amazing," Cook said. "One of the comments was how nice the students are."
John, who enjoyed the program for the first time on Thursday with her husband, Emile, and daughter-in-law, Richland County Commissioner Marilyn John, said she hopes to have a meal with her granddaughter who's taking classes on campus.
The Campus Dining Program launched in September 2017. Since September to the end of February, 1,010 meals have been served and 170 individuals representing five counties have taken part in the program.
"We decided if we had 80 people it would be a success," Cook said. "We are so thrilled that it's working and the seniors are having a great time on campus."
David and Mary Crawford of Bellville have participated in the program since its inception, eating on campus a couple times a month, whenever they're in the area.
"It's very nice," Mary said.
"And it's convenient," David added. "When we're in town here then we have a place to go."
Those 60 and over who are interested in this program are encouraged to call the Area Agency at 419-524-4144 for more information. They will be required to fill out an application. Upon doing so, they will receive a packet of information about the program (where to park, when meals are offered, nutritional information, etc.), as well as vouchers that cover the cost of the meal.
Cook said the Area Agency hopes to expand this program throughout the region, eying such places as Ashland University and Kenyon College as potential future congregate meal sites.
"We are happy that this is going to be something that can be replicated," she said.
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