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New senior meal site opens in Portage

October 2, 2018

The picture windows, through which 16 diners could watch Monday’s midday rainfall, was just one of the new features of Portage’s senior dining center.

Some of the other new things include more space, more light and more warmth.

But for Judy Falk of Poynette, it’s the little things that make the difference at the new site, in the Aging and Disability Resource Center, 111 E. Mullett St.

“There’s no steps or nothing for older people,” she said. “You just park right out there, and walk right in.”

There’s a meal site in Poynette, at the Village Hall, 106 S. Main St. Falk is a regular attendee there. But the opening of the new Portage meal site piqued her interest, and she said she liked what she saw.

So did Ellen Ring, 92, who had lunch Monday at the new site with seven of her neighbors from the Phoenix in downtown Portage.

“I think it’s a little closer for us,” she said. “We’ll be able to get here easier.”

The dining site – including a full kitchen and movable walls, to divide or expand the space as needed – was part of the plan for Columbia County’s $46 million building project, which recently was completed.

The former location was in the lower level of the Portage Municipal Building, 115 W. Pleasant St. – a dark, sometimes chilly space, according to regular attendee Kathleen Diehlmann, 80, of Portage.

“Oh, this is a lot better – a lot warmer,” she said. “We were always cold down there.”

Attendees who drive to the site can park just a few steps away, in a parking lot at East Mullett and Wisconsin streets.

Ashley Jahn, the ADRC’s assistant director, said people age 60 or older, regardless of where they live, may have a meal at the Portage site, or any other Columbia County meal site.

All they need to do is call the ADRC a day in advance – or in the case of Monday meals, on the previous Friday. The number is 608-742-9233. For diners who live outside of Portage’s local calling area, the call is toll-free by dialing area code 888 instead of 608.

The meals – including Monday’s fare, Swiss steak, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots, bread and butter and chocolate pudding – are catered by Feil’s near Randolph.

For diners 60 or older, a donation of $4 is appreciated – payable at the site.

“We won’t refuse you if you can’t pay, but we appreciate the donations, because it helps pay for our program,” Jahn said.

Monday’s meal included music, much of it from the era of the diners’ youth. Singer-guitarist Brad Palmer offered a selection that ranged from Woody Guthrie to Willie Nelson. Falk couldn’t resist harmonizing on the chorus of John Denver’s 1971 hit “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

Noting that all 16 diners Monday were women, Palmer paused during his set to ask, “Where are the men?”

“In their favorite chairs,” quipped one diner.

Jahn said she has contacted other performers to offer occasional live music at future meals.

The Wednesday programming that has long been part of the Portage meals – Card Club on the first and third Wednesdays, bingo on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month – will continue, Jahn said.

Cindy Zabel of Poynette – who is Jahn’s mother – said offering programming like games, entertainment or educational presentations, boosts attendance at senior meals.

But the food is, in itself, an attraction.

“You get your meat, your potato, your vegetable and your bread,” Zabel said. “It’s just enough, but not too much.”

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