Deb Malewski
Contributing Writer

COVID-19 isolation was hard on everyone, but especially those who live alone and are older. Being stuck at home can affect one’s mental, emotional, and physical health. Many of the members of the Jean Bradford Kline Senior Center were hit hard by almost a year and a half of social isolation. The good news is that it appears to be ending, and the senior center is re-opening for a full schedule of activities once again.
“This is what we are here for, with or without a pandemic going on,” said Center director Rita Honeysett. “We’re here to serve seniors. We provide a place to come to socialize with other people, to have some fun, to enjoy a meal, games, and music with friends, and to just get out and live a little bit.”
Sixteen months went by without any card games, bingo, lunches, trivia, or interaction with friends at the senior center. But that’s all changing. The doors are open Monday through Thursday, lunches will be launched soon, and on Wednesday nights you’ll hear your buddy yelling “bingo!”
“We’re happy to be back open,” Honeysett said. “It’s great to have people back in the building.” They’ve already had a “welcome back” lunch with pizza, cake, and music from the Emards, Jinny and Allen, who perform country and bluegrass music.
One stumbling block is putting a damper on re-opening, and that is the lack of a cook/kitchen manager. Honeysett has been searching for someone to prepare lunch for the seniors who drop in, without much luck. “As a small non-profit business, we can’t possibly compete with Chik-fil-A that pays $13 an hour,” she said. “We’re hoping to find someone local who loves to cook and would be willing to help us out for a little less.”
It’s a part-time job, 20 to 29 hours a week, Honeysett said, for lunch and some special occasion meals. The person would handle menu planning, food shopping, meal preparation, special event cooking, and ensuring that the kitchen is clean at the end of the shift.
“It’s a great job for someone who loves to cook and loves people,” Honeysett said. “The most popular menu choices are comfort foods, things that mom used to make, like meatloaf, goulash, pasta, and soups. Nothing complicated or fancy.”
“For some, we know their lunches at the senior center are their only full meal, and one they don’t have to eat alone at home. So, we are glad to be able to provide that nutrition and sense of belonging,” Honeysett said.
The senior center, officially known as the Rocking Chair Deserters, started in 1977 as a nutrition program under the direction of the Continuing Education Program of the Eaton Rapids Public Schools. It’s evolved over the years to having its own programs and building. The program is self-supporting; no governmental funds are received so there is a lot of fundraising done to keep the place going.
There is a temporary volunteer who is helping in the kitchen. Andrew Holzchu, a former executive chef for the State of Michigan in the prison system, has offered to help out for a few lunches, along with his wife.
Many of the center’s regular activities have started back up. Bingo is still on Wednesday nights. There are two knitting groups, one on Tuesday and one on Wednesday. Penny Bingo is still on but is lacking a caller. Euchre is always popular and well attended. The Beltone Hearing Clinic and the foot clinic with Misty are continuing weekly. Music is always popular at the senior center, with visits from Thick n Thin, The Fabulous Arthritics, the Emards, and more, are on the schedule.  Swiss Steak Supper will return to “eat-in” in September.
“We want to see people. You don’t have to be a member to just stop in and have a coffee and visit with us,” Honeysett said. There are also opportunities to volunteer. You can reach the Jean Bradford Senior Center, located at 201 Grand Street in Eaton Rapids, by calling 517-663-2335.