Picnic puts fun, thanks into basket

HOLLIS – Priscilla Trow was a first-time guest at the St. Joseph Community Services annual picnic at Alpine Grove on Thursday. But in no time flat, the 76-year-old Milford resident was feeling at home.

She was one of 300 older adults who attended the 28th annual event hosted by the nonprofit social service agency incorporated by St. Joseph Healthcare.

The centerpiece of the agency is the Meals on Wheels program, which was founded in England during World War II and continued after the war to provide for people who had lost family caregivers.

In the United States, the program has been funded in part since the mid-1960s by the Older Americans Act, legislation passed during the Johnson Administration. In addition to serving the nation’s senior population, the program also provides services, including meals, to homebound, disabled adults, starting at age 18.

St. Joseph Community Services serves Hillsborough County, providing home-delivered lunches to about 1,150 homebound residents and serving about 350 lunches at 12 sites as well as satellite locations, including community centers and senior housing.

Some county residents receive a meal, at home or in the community, five days a week. Others, including seniors in Hollis who share a meal Thursdays at Lawrence Barn, take a meal once a week.

On Thursday, elders from across the county gathered at the rustic Hollis picnic grove to celebrate the end of summer.

In addition to feting older residents, the annual event is a way to say thanks to the many volunteers who transport Meals on Wheels to the homebound, teach exercise classes, and participate in other programs aimed at improving the quality of life for the county’s oldest residents

Trow, who smiled broadly when asked if she enjoyed her barbecued chicken, rated the Alpine Grove coffee top-notch, saying she plans to attend the agency-run community lunches at the Milford Veterans of Foreign Wars post.

While some guests milled about outside or sat at picnic tables playing bingo, others gathered inside the banquet hall. Some came for the line dancing. Others came with portable oxygen tanks, walkers, and canes.

“I wanted her to see new faces,” Milford resident Sue Crawford said, explaining why she had encouraged Trow, whom she looks after, to attend the picnic.Executive director Meghan Brady said the service is available to all residents who are 60 and older. The $3 million program is funded through state and federal support, and community fundraising.

Brady said the program is a response to demographics: New Hampshire has one of the fastest growing elderly populations in the country.

The 300 picnic guests were among “the more active segment of the older community,” she said.

And while most guests had bingo and line dancing on their minds, at least a few talked some politics.

Milford resident Mary Bishop, for example, a food service worker for the Meals on Wheels program, said she’s hoping the politicians will support more senior centers.

The picnic was more party than political event, however.

“I wouldn’t miss this for the world. Everybody is so friendly,” said Merrimack resident Jean Johnson, 75, a longtime volunteer for St. Joseph Community Services with her husband, Pete, 86.

Johnson, who retired from BAE Systems, has delivered meals, taught classes and worked as a courier. She said after retiring, she wanted to “give back to my community.”

The Johnsons said it was easier for them to deliver the meals than to receive them. But last year after Jean was hospitalized for a month, the couple signed up for the Meals on Wheels service.

“It was wonderful knowing they were there,” Jean said.

For more information about St. Joseph Community Services, including volunteer opportunities, contact Meghan Brady at 424-9967 or visit the Web site, www.mealsonwheelsnh.org.