The opening of the St. James Senior Center marked the finish line for a labor of love that has been in the hearts of many community members for quite a while. The project has seen ups and downs, but thanks to the generous spirit of those involved with the center, it is open and serving senior citizens throughout the St. James community.
The previous senior center held a rich history that began in the early 1970’s as the first senior center in the state of Missouri, operating out of a local church before moving into another building. However, the center was not centrally located in town, nor did it have the resources to adequately provide for local residents.
in 2015, the Caring Center, led by Ramona Rhinehart, took over senior center operations, ensuring warm meals for seniors who needed them as well as other services. During that time, Rhinehart saw potential for a new senior center and led the charge for a new development, applying for tax credits and grants to fund the new building.
This new building, located across from the Caring Center in the center of the community. This increased accessibility allows seniors to comfortably fit the center in their normal routines, giving them easy access to warm and nutritious meals and an increasing amount of activities they can join. In a previous article with The Rolla Daily News, Rhinehart said increasing activities for seniors increases longevity for them at home.
“That’s our goal, we want to keep them active,” she said.
On Wednesday, June 27, the new St. James Senior Center served their first lunch to a full house. Where the previous senior center was able to serve approximately 20 to 40 seniors per day, the new location can feed 100 seniors per day, and the first lunch in the new building saw packed seats.
The tables currently in the dining area are another gift from the community. Each of the 25 table sets was individually sponsored, with the end result being a plaque displaying the donor’s name as a testament to the community coming together to support the center.
“The community jumped on them,” said Rhinehart.
Even as the center opened it’s doors, work still continued next door in the enormous food pantry area as coolers and freezers were placed against the wall. The goal for the finished product is to provide a place for seniors to get out of the weather when they arrive for the pantry’s once-a-month food distribution.
“We’re going to get the people lined up against the building in the winter inside while they wait for their food,” said Rhinehart. “That’s always been a goal of mine. I’ve always tried to have a vision where we bring them in out of the weather.”
In addition to this food distribution, the center will be taking part in a new program being set up in partnership with the food bank and Caring Center. Called Senior Boxes, it will provide seniors with two boxes of uncooked food they can prepare at home.
“It will have your protein, your meat products, canned vegetables and fruits, cereal, milk and cheese,” said Rhinehart. “We’ll be able to put that every month right into the hands of people that are in need of that extra food.”
The pantry will be a source of fresh produce, restocked two to three times a week, placed in coolers by the door. Seniors can grab produce after leaving the senior center for the day.
“As they’re leaving the senior center side, if they need that for the weekend, it’s going to be right here,” Rhinehart said. “They can just hop in, take that, and have it for their evening or weekend meal.”
As the St. James Senior Center becomes the one-stop-shop for seniors in the area, Rhinehart and the rest of the staff thank the community, and God, for their support in creating a home for the elderly and their families to gather.
“We wanted to give the feel that this is family, this is home,” Rhinehart said. “It is truly a home for a lot of seniors. Whether they’re widowed or their kids don’t live here, it’s a place to meet and be all day long.”