When Congress enacted the Older Americans Act to address the social services needs of older people, it was seen as a major vehicle for promoting the delivery of social services to seniors.
Its mission was to help older people maintain maximum independence in their homes and communities and to promote a continuum of care for the vulnerable elderly.
In keeping with the mission of the Older Americans Act, Oswego County Opportunities established its Senior Nutrition Services program in 1974. For the past 40 years, OCO has provided seniors throughout Oswego County with a warm meal and the opportunity to share quality time with each other.
From its humble beginnings with one kitchen in Oswego and congregate meal centers in Oswego, Fulton, and Pulaski, OCO’s Senior Nutrition Services has evolved into a program that now boasts a state-of-the art kitchen and prep center, eight Dining and Activity Centers, a county wide home delivered meal program, a summer food program and after school food program that provides free meals to children 18 years and under, and a new name, OCO Nutrition Services to reflect that the program now serves those of all ages.
“It’s amazing to think of how far OCO Nutrition Services has come since we served our first meal in 1974,” said Amy Roland, director of OCO Nutrition Services. “When we began this program we served approximately 25 people per day at each of our four centers. By the end of that first year we were averaging 45 people per day and served over 16,000 meals. And since 1974 we have served 6.5 million meals!”
To achieve those staggering numbers OCO Nutrition Services experienced tremendous growth over the decades.
In the late ‘70s, OCO added a kitchen in the Pulaski area and Dining and Activity centers in Mexico, Parish, Sandy Creek, Hannibal, Phoenix and Constantia.
“Our Dining and Activity Centers are in many ways the hub of the communities they serve,” said Roland. “Participants visit our centers not only to share a warm meal with friends, but to keep active, socialize and enjoy each other’s company.”
Over the years the look and feel of the centers have undergone a metamorphosis. Baby boomers, now in their 60s and 70s, continue to lead active lifestyles and are enjoying the benefits of socialization and recreation. As result, OCO’s Dining and Activity Centers have taken on a look and feel that echoes this fresher, more youthful outlook.
“The concept of being a ‘senior’ has changed and so have our Dining and Activity Centers,” said Program Services Coordinator Bridget Dolbear.
“The range of activities and recreation we offer at our centers has expanded over the years to better accommodate this changing demographic,” she said. “While socialization and the opportunity to share a warm meal with others and create new friendships is the focal point of our centers, it’s the recreational and educational aspects that have become much more of an attraction.”
“There’s always plenty to do; from interactive games such as Bingo and Wii video games, to health and wellness activities, and educational presentations on health, nutrition and exercise. Our Dining and Activity Centers are a fun place to be,” added Dolbear.
In addition to the expansion of the Dining and Activity Centers OCO’s Nutrition Services hit the road in 1976 when it began its Meals on Wheels program to provide homebound individuals with a warm meal and a friendly visit Monday through Friday.
As with the Dining and Activity Centers, the demand for the Meals on Wheels service grew exponentially.
OCO’s Meal on Wheels service, which started with routes in Oswego and the Pulaski, delivered more than 7,900 meals in its first year.
To meet the demand for the program OCO procured additional funding and increased volunteer recruitment over the years so that the Meals on Wheels program now covers all of Oswego County, offers weekend meals, and serves over 5,000 meals each week.
“Our Meals on Wheels program has been able to succeed thanks to our wonderful volunteers,” said OCO Volunteer Coordinator Christine Parks.
“Our drivers, as well as many of those that prepared the food when we started the program, were volunteers. Volunteers are the lifeblood of our Dining and Activity Centers and the Meals on Wheels program. We currently enjoy a volunteer force of more than 300 community members ranging from 45 to 80 years of age! It is inspiring to see the passion they have for these programs and their willingness to help others. “
With OCO Nutrition Services’ Dining and Activity Centers and Meals on Wheels program serving more than 260,000 meals a year, 2010 saw the unveiling of OCO’s 6,500 square foot Community Service Center in Mexico. Housed inside the center is a state-of-the art kitchen and food prep area. Meals for both OCO’s Dining and Activity Centers and the Meals on Wheels program are prepared, cooked and packaged on site for delivery to the centers and the Meals on Wheels by volunteer and paid drivers.
The Mexico Community Service Center has allowed OCO to offer additional nutrition services and the ability to provide multiple menus.
While the scope of OCO Nutrition Services has expanded greatly since its inception, its mission has remained the same — to provide a warm meal and a welcoming environment for those 60 and older wishing to enjoy some fun, quality time with others in their community.
OCO’s Dining and Activities Centers are open 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and are located at:
- Constantia – St. Bernadette’s Church, 1667 St. Rt. 49 – Open M, W, Th. – 315-623-9803
- Fulton – Fulton Municipal Building, 141 South First Street – Open M – F. – 315-592-3408
- Hannibal – Community Library, 162 Oswego Street – Open M, W, F. – 315-564-5471
- Mexico – Presbyterian Church, 4316 Church Street – Open W, F. – 315-963-7757
- Parish – Presbyterian Church, 814 Rider Street – Open M, T, Th. – 315-625-4617
- Phoenix – Congregational Church, 3 Bridge Street – Open M, W, F. – 315-695-4841
- Sandy Creek – Methodist Church, 2031 Harwood Drive – Open M. – F. – 315-298-5020
For more information on OCO Nutrition Services centers or a schedule of activities, call Bridget Dolbear at 598-4712, ext. 1813.
For information on becoming a volunteer, call Christine Parks at 598-4712, ext. 1807 or visit our website at www.oco.org