(Photo by Lecia Forester, staff)
The agency or as it is more commonly known in Kennett as the Kennett Oaks Nutrition Center first opened its doors on Dec. 10, 1973. According to Sharon Montgomery, center administrator, it was one of four centers that opened that year. Since then 34 additional centers have opened and all but five are still open.
Areas that the center serves are Dunklin County all the way to the Arkansas state line, including the communities of Arbyrd, Mo., Cardwell, Mo., and Hornersville, Mo. , and north to Hickory Village which is close to Holcomb, Mo.
In fact, the Kennett Center serves more seniors than any other center overall. On an average 130 people pass through their doors every day and the homebound meals average around 270.
The beginnings of the agency started back in the 1965 during the term of President Lyndon B. Johnson when he initiated the Older Americans Act in response to concerns by policy makers about a lack of community social services for older persons. This policy paved the way for senior programs such as nutrition centers. Included in the policy was a Title IIC2 Home Delivered Meal Program and a Title IIIC1 Senior Nutrition Program Congregate Dining. Actual centers began opening in 1973.
"It was a dream of President Johnson's that came to fruition before his passing," Montgomery said.
Some things offered at the Kennett Center besides meals include blood pressure checks, and presentations by the local hospital and hospice. Quarterly, the University Extension Center usually conducts a class on nutrition education and well as doing taxes for seniors this year until April. Activities that seniors are able to enjoy at the center include Bingo, Red Shirt Friday, and bands on Thursday.
"We've got something going on almost every day," Montgomery said.
The budget for Kennett's center comes to around $400,000. Part of that budget is state and federally funded as well as receiving around $3,000 each year from the United Way.
"We are so proud of that money because it fills the gap. We have Medicaid paid for the homebound that Medicaid will pay for but then we also have it's called a 3c program that Medicaid does not pay for and these people fall through the gap because they can't afford to pay the donation [for the meal]. So, we depend on donations like United Way and anyone else whoever gives us donations to help pay for these people because we don't want to turn anyone away. And we'll never send anyone a bill. If they ask us, we'll say it's a $3 suggested donation. No one is denied because they can't afford to pay (at the center or at home)," Montgomery said.
Regarding the center's budget, Montgomery said, "It does take more than that to run the program at our center. It's sounds like a lot of money but it's not near enough. That's why we are so proud of donations," she said.
Just last year, Woodmen of the World hosted a fundraiser for the center and with those funds raised, Woodmen purchased some new scanning equipment that the center needed. Another organization that has helped the center by hosting a fundraiser last year was TNK Tourist out of Senath, Mo.
The Nutrition Center has a limited staff but is staffed by a lot of volunteers.
"We depend on our volunteers for almost every aspect. We have them working in the kitchen, we have them working in the dining room. Sometimes, they help to deliver meals. There's just a lot of different ways that a volunteer can help us. That saves us money so we can put the money that we'd have to pay a staff person's salary, so we can feed more people," Montgomery said.
In closing, Montgomery said, "The United Way, as a single whole, in my opinion, puts more into the community than anyone else. They serve seniors, they serve young people, they serve anyone that needs it. That's what the United Way is out there for. So, anyone who has any extra money that can afford to donate to the United Way, it is in my opinion, the best place their money could go to and part of that is coming back to us, and I appreciate that."
Anyone wishing to donate, volunteer or obtain more information, contact Sharon Montgomery at (573) 888-9852. The center is located at 900 Kennett Street. Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday-Friday.