LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Enjoying meals with friends while learning about something new makes the Senior Lunch Club an important connection for neighbors who meet at Town Hall each week.
In partnership with Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, meals are served by Meals on Wheels Plus and cost $7.50 per person. The Friendship Dining Program invites those 60 and older for companionship, activities and a hot, nutritious meal.
"We get people together, get them to talk to each other. Sometimes they get together during the week to go see a movie. They're 50, 60, 70 or 80," said East Manatee Fire Commissioner Don O'Leary, often called Lakewood Ranch's unofficial mayor. "I don't intend to get older -- wiser, but no older. I hit 79 this year."
O'Leary said there is a new speaker every week discussing issues such as elder law, what to do with your money and how to take care of yourself.
For Betty Ann McCarthy of the Moorings, the draw is the support the group gives.
"I didn't know we were all going to be so 'senior.' I never think about the age so much as the interest," McCarthy said. "A lot of it was interesting today. I didn't know
a lot about acupuncture. I'm going to give it a try."
Dr. Rachel Toomim of Advanced Acupuncture said Floridians are more vibrant than senior citizens of the past.
"What I notice in my practice is that we're focused on aging well and being active and healthy throughout our lives as much as possible. I find that people in Florida ... we get outside more, we're more physically active," Toomim said. "This community is very strongly interested in healthy eating and getting more physically active. People come to me already understanding the good things they need to do to stay healthy."
Other speakers have included health practitioners from Lakewood Ranch Medical Center.
"That's part of why we became involved. We want to be sure we're able to reach out to all age groups and make them aware of services the hospital offers," said Jennifer Bryan, hospital marketing coordinator.
Aside from the weekly club meeting, Meals on Wheels brings about 100 meals daily to the greater Lakewood Ranch area, estimated Kristen Theisen, vice president of development for Meals on Wheels Plus.
"One of the main misconceptions is that you have to be low income, but that isn't the case," Theisen said. "I've seen the Meals on Wheels drivers going into gated communities. It's a convenience. It's a way for people to stay at home,"
Senior Lunch Club members vary.
"There's definitely room for growth. We would like to see even more actual centers or locations for dinners in this area," Theisen said. "We were looking for quite a while for an east location for a certain kind of dining center where we could do noontime meals and also a sunset dining, where we could go and not have to cook a meal for just one or two."
As a nonprofit organization providing services for people age 50 and above, Theisen said: "We have been very aware of the need for something in the Lakewood Ranch area so we're hoping that we can have a future out here to provide our services."
Dee Graham, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7024, or tweet @DeeGrahamBH.