BENNINGTON -- The Bennington Senior Center and Bennington County Meals on Wheels hosted their annual Halloween party on Wednesday, which included dinner, costumes, music, and fun -- all for a great cause.
Sylvia Ray, a waitress at the center for the past five years, was struck by a motor vehicle as she was crossing the street last week. Attendees paid $6 for the meal, with most of the proceeds going toward to Ray to help with her recovery costs. Ray was not in attendance at the event.
Susan Pratt Fox, executive director of Bennington County Meals on Wheels, dressed up as "Vegetable Robin Hood," which was apropos as in her role she tries to provide healthy eating options to those who otherwise might not be able to afford them.
"We did this last year, and I was afraid nobody was going to dress up," said Fox, but the event ended up being such a success that they made it an annual event. "Our staff, we try to go out of the way to make it special."
Seniors in attendance were treated to a meal and dessert, followed by music by Don Bettis, who played hits from the Everly Brothers and Ricky Martin on his guitar, while the seniors tore up the dance floor.
"It's a lot of fun. They're good people," said Bettis of the senior center patrons.
Bettis has been performing at the center for about four years, and accepts less than his usual rate to perform there, according to the staff.
The Meals on Wheels program has been faced, over the last several years, with ever increasing demand for their services, coupled with a decrease in donations and no increase in the government funding that keeps the program in operation.
"People think that we don't need donations, that we're funded by the government," said Fox, "But that's just not true. We only get about 60 percent of our funding from the government. For the rest, we really rely on people's donations."
The program served about 10,000 more meals in 2013 than in 2012 -- a 25 percent increase. According to Fox, the program faces a $125,000 deficit. "This is a very poor town. People don't have money to eat," said Fox, "We try to provide nutritionally balanced meals, prepared fresh right here in the kitchen."
Joe Dillard, who began working as the chef at Meals on Wheels about three months ago, after spending many years working at the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, said about 90 percent of the food served by Meals on Wheels is prepared fresh in the kitchen, with the exception of some frozen vegetables and some non-perishable goods. According to Dillard, the kitchen feeds about 30 people per day in the café, and about 100 per day on the road. Dillard looks back to his 15 years working in the restaurant industry as a big help in learning how to run a successful kitchen.
Everyone is welcome to dine at the café, which is open Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Additionally, the café will begin operating on Fridays on Dec. 6. The requested donation to cover the costs of eating at the café is $4.25, and $3.25 if you are over 60.
Trina Lampron has been attending meals at the center since January. "I lost 64 pounds eating here since then," said Lampron, who was dressed up like an M&M. "It's nutritious food, and you feel full afterwards, so maybe you don't eat so much at dinner." Lampron noted that if she weren't eating at the Senior Center, she would probably be eating at McDonald's, or consuming other cheap, heavily processed foods.
"Being older doesn't necessarily mean that you're this crotchety old person," said Fox, "They're here, having fun, spending time with their friends."
Perhaps even making some new ones.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB.