KEARNEY — After more than a year of being closed related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kearney Senior Center was a sea of smiling faces as it reopened to the public Wednesday, June 2, and returned to serving dine-in meals.

“It has been long overdue,” said center Director Kathy Meinert. The center is now back open starting at 9:30 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

“I’m glad it’s back open. I missed the socialization,” said center attendee Harley Hofer.

“Oh yes, it’s good. It gets boring staying at home all the time,” said Shirley Ackely, an avid center attendee for a number of years.

Like Hofer, Ackley missed getting to socialize with her friends in her peer group. Ackely also missed the wonderful meals prepared by kitchen manager and head cook Renee Brown and her team.

“Lunch is as good as I remember,” she said with a smile. “And I don’t have to cook it.”

After the center closed due to the pandemic last year, due to a need and desire for the meal service from area seniors, in September, Senior Center Kitchen Manager Brown and the center’s kitchen staff starting making take-out meals for seniors to pick up in the parking lot. Upwards of more than 35 meals per week were served.

With the center reopening, the to-go meals will end.

“Unfortunately, our kitchen, cook and volunteers are not able to do both dine-in cooking and boxing meals for takeout. There is not enough time or space to do this,” said Meinert. “Our center was organized for the purpose of socialization and meals for seniors 55 and above. We hope that many of the new customers that were picking up meals will join us inside now. As was stated on the menu, in the past we always brought out the salads and desserts around 11 to help free up space in the kitchen and the meal was served at 11:30. You do not have to be there at 11 to get the salad and dessert. You can arrive at 11:30, just in time for the meal; and your dessert and salad will be waiting for you.”

“It’s so good to be back,” said Brown.

While the center reopened, some changes to the meal reservations made during the height of the pandemic will remain.

“Reservations are needed 24 hours in advance. That will be easy for new customers, but our previous customers were used to being able to call up until 9 a.m. that morning, or some later. We will now require that you call 24 hours ahead of time. This makes life much easier for the kitchen. If you are late getting in your call or just show up and want a meal, we would not turn you away, but would put you on a late list and you would have to wait until others that made reservations on time to get their meals first,” said Meinert.

In addition to reopening the center for lunches, other limited senior center activities are also returning. PEPPI exercise class, which helps build strength and flexibility, starts at 10 a.m. on the days the center is open.

“We are still working on the transportation/bus service. We don’t have that all ironed out yet, but we hope we will have transportation by the second or third week of June to the center,” said Meinert. “We are following all (Clay County Public Health) recommendations. Anyone who has not been vaccinated should continue to take precautions. Wearing a mask is fine for anyone if it makes you feel more comfortable.”

A garage sale at the center, which is located at 600 N. Jefferson St. in Kearney, was also held last week.

“It’s exciting. We know a lot of people have been missing the socialization and the center so we are happy to be able to reopen,” Meinert told the Courier-Tribune.

Managing Editor Amanda Lubinski can be reached at amanda.lubinski@mycouriertribune.com, 903-6001 or @myCTAmanda1 on Twitter.

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