By Everett Brazil, III
The Newkirk Newkirk Journal
NEWKIRK — For a number of months, a line has formed outside the Newkirk Senior Citizens Center, a parade of vehicles as hungry patrons wait in line for a warm meal each Wednesday and Friday. March 31 was different, however, as both the parking lot and dining room were at near capacity, as the facility has reopened to the public and welcomed their seniors with open arms.
Senior Center workers Serena Welch, Ashley Longcrier and Bernita Wathor were all smiles as they welcomed the community that morning for a potluck lunch at 11:30.
“It was amazing, fantastic; it was great to see their faces,” Longcrier said.
It was the most stability the Center has seen in a year.
The city of Newkirk went into lockdown mode in March of 2020, as COVID-19 cases spiked in the spring, closing all city facilities to the public.
Some normalcy returned June 1, with breakfast, followed by Fried Chicken Friday, but that normalcy was short lived, as the center eventually closed again in November, and cases once again went up with the flu season.
“We’ve been closed since last March. We’ve only been open for about a month,” Welch said.
The new reopening did have some changes from normal operations. Masks weren’t required, but some did wear them, and masks and hand sanitizer were available for those who asked for them.
What did feel like normal was the atmosphere, as it felt like a virtual carnival to see each other again.
The meal started about 11:30 a.m. after the Pledge of Allegiance, along with a prayer by Church of Christ Pastor Scott Dutton. The Senior Center provided pulled pork sandwiches, with the meat smoked by Chuck Winburn. Patrons provided all the sides, ranging from a variety of salads, deviled eggs, rolls, baked and green beans and many tasty desserts. Several cakes were provided by Angels Care Home Health, which included a “Welcome Back” cake, as well as a cake for all the birthdays they missed during the closures.
Those in attendance loved seeing everyone once again.
“It was wonderful to see old friends. The food was outstanding, and it was a wonderful time of visitation,” Carolyn Kahle said.
In many ways, it was like life was back to normal. Angels Care provided free blood pressure tests, and many rounds of bingo were later played, with myriad prizes available for winners.
New activities were also enjoyed, like a COVID-19 piñata, so patrons could take their feelings and emotions out on the pandemic. Many did, and hit it to the floor in their despair and frustration.
It wasn’t just a return to normalcy, a lunch once again joined together, but a blessing, as there had been little contact with fellow seniors due to the virus. That includes Kahle, who was a regular on Mondays and Wednesdays.
“The whole time during the lockdown was pretty depressing, for a person that lives in Peckham. There is not a lot going on there,” she said.
It wasn’t just the Senior Center closing that was hard on the community; rather, it impacted the community in many other areas of people’s lives that made life itself hard. For Kahle, as owner of Then and Now Antiques, she saw a lack of opportunities to procure new items for her store.
“Auctions weren’t going on; it was a tough time,” she said. “Auctions have opened a little bit, now.”
The Senior Center has released the April calendar, which indicates a full return to normal activities, including breakfast on Monday, and lunch on Wednesday and Friday. Dancing activities return the first and third Friday in May, and a potluck dinner will be held tonight, Thursday, at 6. The community is to bring a side dish and simply visit.
There are many people the center would like to thank, including Winburn for smoking the meat. They would also like to thank Bob Coffee and Richard Hudnell, who kept the facility operating, even during the lockdowns.
“While we were closed, they maintained the facility,” Longcrier said.
They also want to thank Angels Care for not just senior healthcare and blood pressure tests, but also the piñata.
At the end of the day, it is the seniors who were the most blessed, being together once again.
“It was wonderful, it was so good to see our building once again,” Charlotte Sutton said. “Everyone was so happy. The excitement, I could see it in everyone.”