Nestled within the heart of Volunteers of America Colorado’s cold warehouse in Commerce City, ambient lighting casts a gentle glow, creating a warming atmosphere that welcomes seniors to take their seats.
The air is filled with the comforting aroma of a home-cooked meal, providing a haven for the elderly to gather, dine and find a community. There are signs of thoughtful preparation everywhere: Newsletters sit on every table with tips on combating the winter blues, word games and resources for food insecurity.
In the busy catering kitchen, chef José Huizar works his culinary magic, preparing a hearty dinner for seniors in the Denver area. Sparkling and clean stainless-steel counters shine brightly as the kitchen staff prepares a delicious menu featuring chicken Alfredo, steamed broccoli and other colorful vegetables, plus fresh bread rolls. It’s a team effort, with each dish crafted to bring joy and nourishment to those in their golden years. They create a joyful experience for all, especially ahead of the holiday season.
“The dinners were a hit,” chef Jose Huizar said. “We only had two people on the first Thursday, and it tripled since then.”
The Senior Nutrition Program was discontinued when COVID-19 hit in 2020 and resumed on Sept. 28 of this year. It’s been wildly popular as it gives older folks a hot plate of food and socialization. The dinners are composed of different menus thought up by a dietician at Volunteers of America, who considers the different dietary needs of seniors.
Huizar loves his job, which he said is very rewarding. The hot meals never go to waste, as seniors often bring guests with them. Any leftovers are sent home with diners. Faustine Curry, vice president of marketing, can attest to its success and the charitable work culture of the Volunteers of America.
“At this facility alone we do about 1.2 million meals a year, and that’s just in Colorado.”
The new location in Commerce City used to be a warehouse. The old location of Volunteers of America on Larimer St. in Denver just wasn’t enough for all the Meals on Wheels volunteers and staff.
“It’s perfect, it fits all the food donation pantry items we distribute and makes it easier for the Meals on Wheels volunteers,” Curry said.
According to a Meals on Wheels fact sheet from 2022, Colorado ranks 9th in the U.S. for seniors experiencing food insecurity, with over 9%, or about 105,000 seniors, at risk of hunger. Older Coloradans also rank third in the country for being at risk of social isolation. That becomes particularly apparent around the holidays, which many spend alone. But Volunteers of America and Meals on Wheels are hoping to at least fill their stomachs this Thanksgiving.
“We have about 225 turkeys right now for our Meals on Wheels program ahead of Thanksgiving,” Huizar said. “We also have a lunch truck that we drive around and hand out food from, especially when we have extra food.”
Many tents and homeless camps can be seen close to the location in Commerce City, where Curry and Huizar said they deliver food on days when there’s more than enough for the Meals on Wheels and Senior Nutrition Program.
“They’re on our route so why not? We might as well provide them with hot meals,” Huizar said. “We avoid throwing food away as much as we can.”
In addition to delivering hot meals to home-bound seniors through Meals on Wheels, the Commerce City location of Volunteers of America hosts dinners for the elderly every Thursday night at 4:30 p.m. According to Curry, congregate dining like the Thursday senior dinners “create community and help the elderly be social.”
The application for signing up for the congregate nutrition program is a simple one: It asks for your age, your veteran status, and your income. If you don’t qualify, the application has two pages of information regarding other resources for food shortages and other needs.