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Heart of the community: Tasty, traditional eats for Fourth of July help seniors stay strong
When you bite into that saucy spaghetti or sweet shortcake on the Fourth of July, you’re taking part in a more-than-20-year civic tradition of Carnation.
The Sno Valley Senior Center’s iconic pre-Fourth Spaghetti Dinner and annual Strawberry Shortcake feed on the big day are both living legacies of this place’s ongoing mission of service.
At the center
The center, located in the former Odd Fellows hall at 4610 Stephens Ave., has been a part of Carnation for decades.
The center’s daily lunches, classes, dinners, games and activities, trips and Adult Day program all create a base of service that keeps people 50 to 90-plus active, healthy and independent in Carnation.
“We inspire, support and empower seniors to live healthy, enriched lives,” said Senior Center Director Amara Oden. The center’s resources help seniors find resources and make social connections, from active, independent, younger seniors to those who are older, with more significant health issues.
Seniors are a special generation, with many amazing stories to tell and experiences to share. They’re not ones to toot their own horn, though, Oden says.
The best way to connect with this generation, and to be a part of a wider community, is simply to visit the center. This summer is a good time, as the center recently wrapped up a big remodel, which added a whole new level of space for classes and activities.
The center holds special monthly dinners every month of the year, except July, August and December, and serves a regular lunch at noon, Monday through Friday.
Fourth of July fun
The annual spaghetti feed, shortcake sales and quilt raffle are not just a great, colorful tradition for the Fourth. They’re also a significant fundraiser, and entirely volunteer run. Sales from these three fundraisers provide about $7,000 every year.
“That enables us to keep our doors open,” Oden said, “keep relevant programs that are interesting to people. If we were to miss $7,000, it would cut into programs and services.” Far better, then, to keep the traditional Fourth of July feasts, and the hungry visitors, coming.
The meals are Valley affairs. Part of the reason they’re a success is that many ingredients come from local businesses and farms. The beef, veggies, coffee, dairy products and strawberries themselves all are donated.
These traditions have been kept alive for more than a generation thanks to volunteers of all ages taking part. Members “really become interested in giving back,” Oden said. Because it’s so vital, “they don’t tend to wait around for people to fill those roles.
The center benefited from 22,000 hours of volunteerism in 2010.
“We have generations of families who volunteer here,” Oden said. “People find out about us. It’s a positive place to be.”
The feeds are also a great way to introduce the center to new people, of all ages.
“We get a huge amount of people who come through our doors” during the holiday, Oden said.
Sno Valley Senior Center is a “very intergenerational place,” she added. “It’s one of the things that makes this place special. People who have a set idea about what it’s like to go into a senior center are greeted with a whole different idea when they see people working in the kitchen, serving their food. It’s a reminder that seniors are not just one particular way.” And that the senior center is not only serving the very old, it’s something that they might want to come back and take part in themselves, from renting the space or taking part in more activities.
“I’m excited to open our doors to the community,” Oden said.