Also serving the communities of De Luz, Rainbow, Camp Pendleton, Pala and Pauma

Writer ponders Fallbrook favorite for seniors: comfort food, conversation, music and more

Special to the Village Newst. Patrick's Month is well underway. It begins after Valentine's Day and comes to a foot-stomping finale on March 17.

During this gala period, and beyond, my Irish heart indulges in the riches of comfort food, conversation, dancing, music and more at the Fallbrook Community Center. All this unfolds for me simultaneously at the weekday lunches served by the Fallbrook Senior Center.

I reveal this at great risk, as I may be slammed by my fellows for sharing what many consider to be Fallbrook's best-kept secret.

Some changes occurred in the meal program early this year, and they included the lamentable loss of a popular lad who has yet to land on his feet. But the bulk of this worthwhile program is still intact, and it's a major task for me to tell its tale in a mere 850 words.

I'll first serve up the overview, shift to the lad and then dish up a plate of praise for the program's providers and participants.

The club is located at 399 Heald Lane in Fallbrook. It serves a 110.5-square-mile area that takes in Fallbrook, Rainbow, Bonsall and DeLuz. The club's approximately 640 members each pay $15 a year to belong. That fee, which has not increased in at least 10 years, doesn't even cover the club's electric bill.

The nonprofit club, which was established in 1974, offers activities, classes, games and other services. Its thrift shop, which opened in the 1980s, is the club's chief source of operating funds.

Nearly 25% of the area's approximately 50,000 residents is comprised of adults age 65 or older, according to SANDAG, a regional planning group. Between 2020 and 2050, the population of Fallbrook-area adults age 75-79 will increase by more

than 41%, ages 80-84 by 98% and 85 and older by nearly 150%.

That projected growth has left club leaders wondering how they will serve the region if the scope of their programs and the size of their 4,000-square-foot facility remain the same. The club has struggled with this dilemma since I served on its board more than a decade ago.

At that time, about 69% of the club's budget went to its meals program. For decades, the club has been the designated agency that provides low-cost senior meals in the area.

Club officials say it costs $18 to prepare and serve each meal. That figure includes the cost of renting the community center kitchen and its conference room. Some of the meal costs are subsidized by government food programs and grants obtained by the senior club.

Up until January, the club prepared and delivered weekday lunches to home-bound seniors. However, the soaring costs of food, fuel and utilities forced the club's current board to turn the home-delivered lunch program over to Meals on Wheels, a nationwide nonprofit group.

Meals on Wheels estimates that nearly 13% of U.S. seniors are "marginally food insecure."

As a result of that switch, driver David Vidaca lost the job he held for about 25 years. David was a friendly face to countless Fallbrook seniors during his long tenure. He was sometimes the only person to visit area seniors on a regular basis.

On several stops over the years, David needed to summon aid for seniors who had fallen or were struggling with one health challenge or another. On one visit, he found a deceased senior. David is a quiet, 55-year-old hard worker. I pray he lands on his feet by finding another job he loves.

Meanwhile, the club continues to serve low-cost, weekday meals at the community center to seniors who have their own transportation.

I am, according to the SANDAG data, one of the approximately 2,650 elder Fallbrook-area residents (17%) who live alone. Meals on Wheels data notes that half of all seniors who live alone lack the income to pay for basic needs.

I find myself drifting into that cohort, as my finances have suffered since my wife's dementia precipitated her move into an assisted living facility more than a year ago.

Thus, the senior lunches are a godsend for me. It's a good, hot meal that costs only $5 if you're 50 or older. Rodolfo "Rudy" Pedroza is our cheerful chef. Veronica Orozco is his capable and friendly assistant. Araceli Flores serves us with a smile.

So far this month, we've dined on meatloaf, chicken in various contortions, baked shrimp, tacos, turkey, sausage and sauerkraut and all kinds of fish.

There's plenty of good humor, cajoling and conversation. The patrons bring a wealth of professional and personal experiences to the table. There's a retired medical doctor, many military veterans, and former teachers, nurses, engineers and aerospace workers. Sometimes there's music. The exhibitionists among us dance and wear odd outfits.

Birthdays feature cupcakes and candy. Holiday lunches are not to be missed. I can't wait for St. Patrick's Day. You'll see me there in my shamrock tights and my green baseball cap that proudly proclaims: "Kiss Me I'm Irish"

Erin Go Bragh.


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