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Silver Key forced to reshuffle Connections Cafe

Losing lunches

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The last Silver Key lunch at Meadows Park was July 12. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • The last Silver Key lunch at Meadows Park was July 12.

A dwindling group of seniors who’ve been eating lunch together on weekdays at Meadows Park Community Center, some for years, recently got some upsetting news.

Due to a decrease in available federal funding, and declining attendance at some of its donation-based Connections Café lunches, local nonprofit Silver Key Senior Services was forced to consolidate its lunch locations — meaning Stratton Meadows seniors would now get to enjoy lunch together at the center just one day a week.

According to Silver Key Executive Director Jason Deabueno, seven Connections Café sites across the city were set to close after July 12, leaving 14 sites fully operational. Two other sites had lunches reduced.

“This decision that we made was not something that we wanted to move to at all in any way,” Deabueno said at a community meeting July 11 to discuss new options for Meadows Park. “The population growth of seniors is increasing so much in Colorado Springs, and ... the dollars that we get to be able to support the needs of seniors haven’t necessarily kept pace.”

In this scenario, though, the nonprofit has been able to work out an alternative.

Seniors who attended the Meadows Park lunches will be able to eat lunch daily at Villa Santa Maria and Villa San Jose, Deabueno says. The twin buildings comprise a senior housing development run by Archdiocesan Housing, a Catholic Charities affiliate.

While the two dozen or so people at the meeting appeared relieved by the news, the challenge points to more looming difficulties for older residents of Colorado Springs.

The median age in El Paso County is 34. But at the same time, the population of seniors is fast increasing. 

Between 2018 and 2025, the number of El Paso County residents between 75 and 84 is projected to grow by a whopping 45 percent, according to the State Demography Office. That’s more than twice as fast as any other age group.

The 65-74 and 85-plus age groups are tied for second place, at 21 percent projected growth each over those seven years.

At the same time, though, attendance at local senior lunches has dwindled over the years, says Lonnie Miera, a longtime Stratton Meadows resident and neighborhood activist who says as many as 50 people used to attend Connections Café back in the day. Now, it’s closer to 15.

Miera helped orchestrate the meeting with Silver Key and invited service providers. City Council President Pro-Tem Tom Strand was among those in attendance.

At Hillside Community Center, which had its final Connections Café lunch July 11, attendance had been dwindling, too — down to 10 or 12 most days, says Hillside Parks Operations Administrator Joan Clemons. Most seniors who’ve been regulars feel comfortable about finding transportation to new locations, Clemons adds.

“We’re sorry to see that the Connections Café is not continuing with us,” Clemons says. “But we understand. Funding is funding.”

Those at the meeting discussed finding new ways to advertise programs for seniors at community centers, so that growing sector of the population could take advantage of opportunities such as lunches and exercise programs.

Brian Kates, parks operations administrator at Meadows Park Community Center, says the center has a $25,000 grant from the National Recreation and Park Association that could cover transportation from Meadows Park to the new lunch location as well as intergenerational food-related events.

Meadows Park will still have lunch for seniors once a week, provided by Springs Rescue Mission’s Mission Catering.

Miera hopes the city and Silver Key can find a way to get funding back for daily lunches.

“Some of the seniors would feel more comfortable if they were in their own neighborhood,” he says.

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