across county stay engaged at Living Well Cafes
By DOANE YAWGER
May 30, 2019
Senior citizens have seven sites in Merced
County where they can go for a daily meal, fellowship, activities
and get tips on living healthy, productive lives.
They can visit the Living Well Cafe.
Operated by the Merced County Human Services Agency's senior
program, Living Well Cafes can be found in Merced, Atwater,
Livingston, Winton, Planada, Dos Palos and Los Banos.
Between 110 and 135 people are served every day at one of
the sites, according to Chris Bobbitt, program manager with
the Area Agency on Aging operated by the Merced County Human
"They can come and have a nutritious meal, enjoy companionship
and fun activities, including bingo," Bobbitt says.
"For those who aren't homebound, socializing is a big
emphasis, a key component. They can talk and chat with each
For some who live alone, it may be their only contact with
other people that day.
"When selecting a name for our Congregate Senior Nutrition
Program, our former Human Services Agency director, Ana
Pagan, strove to ensure that the name encompassed the program’s
goal of serving mind, body and spirit; The Living Well Café
fit the bill beautifully," Bobbitt says.
Open every day from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday,
Merced's Living Well Cafe at 851 W. 23rd St. hosts 40 to
60 people a day. Some people come five days a week regardless
of the meal. And meat loaf is one of the more popular entrees.
Bobbitt says an annual anonymous survey of participating
seniors shows they are happy with the food, how the centers
are operated and make suggestions for improvement. They
have made a number of changes including more color in the
meals and different menu selections.
On the surveys, seniors said they enjoy the activities such
as classes, bingo, coloring and the speakers about food
topics. Others said since they are on limited income they
like the price.
One senior participant said she liked how she feels welcomed
and the attention all the people are given. With another
person, the sharing of time was valued.
"For some living alone, this is their only contact,"
Bobbitt says. "There is a thing called 'food insecurity.'
We don't want people worrying where their next meal is coming
The suggested daily donation is $2 but Bobbitt says no one
is turned away. Participants range from age 60 to near 100
years of age.
The Living Well Cafes were launched five years ago. Arts
and crafts activities were introduced three years ago. Paint
by numbers paint kits, birdhouses, flower pots, knitting
and crocheting activities are part of the creative outlets
The monthly activity calendar for Merced's site shows arts
and crafts painting, low-impact aerobics, movie days, word
search puzzles, bingo, a nutrition class, Tai Chi videos,
a crochet class, and a Karaoke birthday celebration. Each
site makes its own activity calendar for the month.
The Senior Brown Bag program is conducted the second and
fourth Friday of the month in Merced, at 7:30 a.m. Operated
by the Merced County Food Bank, everybody gets one grocery
bag full of staples. including rice, spaghetti, peanut butter,
snack items, some kind of bread, pasta, spaghetti sauce,
cans of soup and fruit juice.
During the holidays, a three or five-pound ham is provided.
A Senior Farmer's Market nutrition program gives seniors
five $4 coupons they can redeem at Certified Farmers Markets
in Merced and Livingston.
Bobbitt explains Our Lady of Mercy School students come
once a month and sing for the seniors, also presenting them
with homemade cards.
A public health nurse is assigned to the program and once
a month provides educational programs on physical health
improvement possibilities — and ways to keep the mind
The county contracts with the Merced County Rescue Mission
for the meal program. The mission provides the site coordinator
who works four hours a day. Each location has a steam table
and refrigerator with workers trained in food safety and
The county contracts with Minnesota-based Taher Inc. to
prepare hot food items. The Merced College cafeteria is
used. The county also contracts with a registered dietitian
to prepare nutritious and appealing meals.
Spring, summer, fall and winter meals are prepared. Stews
are added for fall and winter meals and summers include
sandwiches and seafood salads.
Turkey and pumpkin pies are Thanksgiving additions, with
ham for the Christmas season and corned beef for St. Patrick's
Day, according to Bobbitt.
"We try to mix it up and give variety," she says.
The Rescue Mission conducts one fundraiser a year, this
year a Halloween Bingo Bash on Saturday Oct. 19 from 10
a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Senior Community Center on West 15th
Street. Tickets are $10 for a hamburger, drink and bingo
card with all money going to support the senior nutrition
program. Typically about 240 people attend the event, now
in its third year.
Besides the Merced site on 23rd Street, Living Well Cafes
are at Atwater United Methodist Church, 2550 Linden Ave.,
Atwater; Dale Hall at 931 Center St., Dos Palos; the Livingston
Senior Center at 420 Main St., Livingston; the Miller-Lux
Senior Center at 830 6th St., Los Banos; the Planada Community
Center at 9167 Stanford St., Planada; and the Winton Community
Center, 7091 Walnut Ave., Winton.
Doane Yawger of Merced is a semi-retired newspaper reporter