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Last March 12, the Boulder-Basin Senior Center served what would turn out to be its last lunch for more than a year. (For the record, the menu that day featured oven herbed chicken with brown rice, steamed broccoli, garden salad, and fruit medley.) The COVID-19 pandemic had just hit Montana, and seniors were judged to be at high risk.

On May 4, 418 days later, the Senior Center reopened its doors. Cook Debbie Larson prepared a meal of Montana pasties, diced beets, broccoli spears, and sweet peaches. Seven residents had RSVPed.

The lunch service is offered by the Rocky Mountain Development Council, a non-profit agency based in Helena that provides community services primarily to Jefferson, Broadwater, and Lewis & Clark counties. Known locally as “Rocky,” the Council decided to restart lunches in conjunction with the Jefferson County Health Department.

Lunch will be served at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, as before. But residents will see several changes, reflecting the county’s guidelines on social distancing and Rocky’s experience restarting similar meal service in Lewis & Clark County.

“Seniors need to get back together, but we need to keep them safe,” said Shawna Donaldson, Rocky’s manager for senior nutrition programs. That means, for one thing, that lunch guests will be served at their tables, rather than serving themselves. Masks will be required, except when eating. Tables will be limited to four diners — and staff will note who is sitting at each table, to aid contact tracing efforts in the event of a coronavirus infection.

The price of lunch hasn’t changed. Diners aged 60 and up are asked for a voluntary $5 donation; younger guests must pay $7. (Rocky’s service is also sustained with federal and state funds.) And reservations are required by the day before. (Call 225-3656.) Given the vagaries of the pandemic and its fall-out, said Donaldson, “We don’t know how many to expect.”

Neither does the Senior Center. Before the pandemic, attendance had been dropping over time: Shirley Vossler, vice president of the Center’s board, said lunches most recently attracted an average of seven to 10 diners – and another four or five in the summer from the area’s health mines.

The Center is considering new activities that might bring in more members: A movie night, perhaps, or games like bingo or parcheesi. “Guys will go to Phil & Tim’s and play pinochle,” Vossler said, referring to Boulder’s bar and bowling alley. 

But she noted that seniors, like everyone else, increasingly are staying at home, kept occupied by satellite television, gaming, or other online activities. “We’re just not a social group anymore,” she said. “I don’t know what you can do about that.”

On May 4, 418 days later, the Senior Center will reopen its doors. Cook Debbie Larson is set to prepare a meal of Montana pasties, diced beets, broccoli spears, and sweet peaches.

The lunch service is offered by the Rocky Mountain Development Council, a non-profit agency based in Helena that provides community services primarily to Jefferson, Broadwater, and Lewis & Clark counties. Known locally as “Rocky,” the Council decided to restart lunches in conjunction with the Jefferson County Health Department.

Lunch will be served at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, as before. But residents will see several changes, reflecting the county’s guidelines on social distancing and Rocky’s experience restarting similar meal service in Lewis & Clark County.

“Seniors need to get back together, but we need to keep them safe,” said Shawna Donaldson, Rocky’s manager for senior nutrition programs. That means, for one thing, that lunch guests will be served at their tables, rather than serving themselves. Masks will be required, except when eating. Tables will be limited to four diners — and staff will note who is sitting at each table, to aid contact tracing efforts in the event of a coronavirus infection.

The price of lunch hasn’t changed. Diners aged 60 and up are asked for a voluntary $5 donation; younger diners must pay $7. (Rocky’s service is also sustained with federal and state funds.) And reservations are required by the day before. (Call 225-3656.) Given the vagaries of the pandemic and its fall-out, said Donaldson, “We don’t know how many to expect.”

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