When the Santa Cruz Council on Aging closed the doors of the Nogales Senior Center for sit-down meals last March, they turned to curbside pick-up and delivery services to continue feeding their clientele during the coronavirus pandemic.

But after using up all the grant funding for the meal program last Friday, Vice President Arnoldo Montiel said, the senior center started digging into its own pocket to continue feeding the community.

Thankfully, he said, the local branch of UniSource Energy Services this week gave the center a $10,000 grant that will allow staff to continue providing the meal services.

“Right now we’re serving meals with our money, but luckily we got that funding yesterday so we’re going to continue feeding the people,” Montiel told the NI on Tuesday, adding that the money was enough to cover the take-home meals through the end of this year.

Paulette Pineda, recreational director at the Bowman Senior Residences, was among those who applauded the continuation of the service.

“There are so many families that don’t eat during the day. Or maybe once a day, and that’s it,” Pineda said as she waited in her vehicle to pick up some meals on Thursday.

Her passenger, Jan Newell, was effusive in her praise for the services provided by the center.

“They’re always so good, their food is excellent, and the whole community supports this effort. And we should be proud of that in Nogales,” she said.

The free hot meals go a long way for her, Newell said.

“I can usually make it into two, because I don’t eat that much anymore,” she said.

The senior center, which receives its operational funding from the Southeastern Arizona Governments Association, initially handed out warm, take-out meals just for elderly residents in the community. But when they secured a grant in early April – meant to help ease the economic hardships brought on by the pandemic – they expanded their services to all people in the community.

On Tuesday, Montiel said the center was handing out between 150 to 180 meals every day to families with a variety of ages.

“All people that need assistance, who can’t get food anywhere else, we’re willing to give them food until we run out everyday,” he said, adding that they typically give out all of their daily meals within a half-hour. “We’re kind of limited to those numbers because we’re limited with kitchen staff and we can only handle that number.”

As for bringing back the sit-down meals inside the senior center? It’s difficult to project, Montiel said.

The Santa Cruz Council on Aging’s Nogales Senior Center is located at 125 E. Madison St. Staff and volunteers hand out the take-home meals Monday-Friday, starting at 10 a.m.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Clark.)

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