Booneville Senior Center reopens its doors

Glenn Parrish
Clarence Biggs serves Delores Earp a noon meal tray Wednesday. Also pictured are Jo Hanshaw (left) and Joe Henry Earp.

On the menu was a baked ranch chicken breast, baked potato, and baked beans, but that was not important.

What was important to the 28 of the Booneville area’s eldest citizens gathered at the Booneville Senior Center last Wednesday for a noon meal was the fact that they were able to do just that – gather.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the senior center was one of the first to have to close its doors and while doing so was a move to protect the most vulnerable of the population, it came at a cost of the most amount of human interaction some center regulars enjoyed.

Although meals were delivered to homes throughout the pandemic, or picked up by those who could drive, the center remained closed to inside activities until June 1. Center executive director Kaleigh Bynum was more than happy to reopen the doors.

“The mask mandate was lifted and all the regulations that even restaurants had to follow were relaxed,” Bynum explains the reason to reopen. “But we’re still doing some social distancing.”

Bynum said attendance at the center since the reopening has peaked at near 30, down from the pre-pandemic numbers that saw crowds regularly in the 60s.

“We still do the to-go meals for them if they don’t feel comfortable enough to come in,” said center volunteer Sally Hardin. “We have anywhere from 12 to 20 to-go (meals).”

Sadly, some center regulars never had an option to return as they passed away during the shutdown.

While the noon meal may seem the draw, and it does serve as a nutritionally sound intake for the seniors, it goes much deeper than that for those who have been ready to reconnect.

“It’s a big part of my day,” Clarence Biggs said taking a break from a book he was reading on Wednesday, then adding, “we play bridge and there’s usually a lot of domino games going on back there (in the game room) but they haven’t started those back up yet.”

Biggs was on hand the first day the center reopened on June 1, and he’s been able to attend several other days.

“I was out of town for a couple of days or I would have been here a lot more often,” Biggs said.

Claudina Sharbor (from left), LeNeal Christie, and Peggy Gordon pose for a picture while awaiting lunch Wednesday.

At another table Wednesday three ladies are got together for a pre-meal chat.

“Everybody is happy to be here,” said Claudina Scharbor. “We’re regulars.”

“We’re here about every day,” LeNeal Christie adds.

Christie remained a regular as much as she could during the shutdown, making her way through a makeshift drive through situated under the covered drop off area to pick up meals.

“Every day,” Christie said. “I could wear my pajamas over here but since we’re open I have to get dressed.”

Christie is also typically a regular at the domino table and is waiting for the games to resume.

C.E. Bryant awaits his noon meal Wednesday while his wife, Eula Faye, is set to prepare a baked potato to her liking.

At still another table Wednesday were C.E. Bryant and his wife Eula Faye whose time at the center goes back to when it was operated at the Booneville Community Center before the new building on Heritage Drive opened about two decades ago.

Eula Faye Bryant is a regular at the jigsaw puzzle tables.

“We haven’t started a lot of things, but they’ll probably start back in July,” said Bynum. “We’re trying to get back to where they can feel comfortable doing those things.”

Bynum says she understands, of course, regardless the status of the pandemic, some of the once regulars may never come back, and that’s okay.

For those who do, still to come could be the popular bean bag baseball game where a center team travels to other centers for contests.

Hopes are the center can return to the days when it was what younger generations might term a “hangout” hosting events ranging from New Year’s Eve to costume parties, and more.

Sid Tucker (from left), Clarence Biggs, Madeline Green, and Paula Hammonds engage in a game of Bridge on Tuesday.