There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but in Lake Cowichan at least, there’s a lunch that’s inexpensive, delicious, homemade and served up with plenty of TLC. For the past eight years, Monday to Friday, Heidi McAlpine has been cooking up a storm in the kitchen of the Cowichan Lake District Seniors Centre.
“It’s all homemade, we cook the roasts and make meatloaf from scratch for our sandwiches,” said McAlpine. “No tinned soups here! All homemade from scratch and we do all kinds. Cream of mushroom, potato and leek, borscht, mulligatawny, you name it.”
Cowichan Lake District Seniors Association manager, Frank Hornbrook is proud of the fare at the centre and points out the low prices.
“$2 for a bowl of soup, $2 for a sandwich, $1 for dessert. You can have a main meal for $5 to $6,” said Hornbrook. “That’s one of the main concepts of this building, to provide low cost meals to seniors. That’s what we strive for.”
Besides feeding the body, the centre also aims to nourish the mind and spirit by providing a friendly place to drop in for a coffee, game of cards or pool, or take part in the many activities on the schedule.
“We have speakers every few months, there’s a craft group, our Thursday music jams, carpet bowling. The socializing aspect is tremendous,” said Hornbrook.
You don’t have to be a member or even a senior to take advantage of what the centre has to offer. Anyone is welcome to drop in for lunch or to participate in the goings-on. For association members and Golden Ager Society members there are additional perks and opportunities like subsidized outings to shows, events and out of town venues.
“To us “senior” starts at age 50 and you’re more than welcome to bring your family,” said Hornbrook. “But you definitely don’t have to be a member to enjoy the centre.”
The centre receives funding from the Town of Lake Cowichan and Area F and I, but the association uses fundraisers like Wednesday night bingo to help with expenses like hydro and building maintenance. Hornbrook is forever scouting for grants as well.
And then there’s pie day! Thursday means the Seniors Good-time Band is in residence playing a variety of music for listening and dancing and on the dessert menu, a piece of homemade pie for $2.
“On pie day sometimes we have anywhere from 50 to 75 people. There used to be a line up!” laughs McAlpine. “Otherwise we have our homemade fruit crumbles, rice or bread puddings, things like that.”
Kitchen coordinator, Mary Lorenz has been a fixture at the centre for 20 years. She and her late husband, Norman were instrumental in helping establish the centre.
“It was my husband’s dream to have this centre and we worked hard,” said Lorenz. “I cooked here for five years as a volunteer with no salary at all.”
These days, Lorenz is busy helping coordinate and plan the menus and still bakes the cinnamon buns, cookies and other goodies.
“We learn from each other,” said McAlpine of her co-worker and friend.
For McAlpine, her long time stint at home on the range at the centre has been a life saver. McAlpine suffers from Lupus, a genetic immune system disorder that results in a variety of symptoms and sometimes slows her down.
“Everyone is so patient with me on my slow days. The pays not the greatest for the hours that I work but I figure I’m the luckiest girl in the world because I’ve got 80 grandmas,” she said. “I’ve learned so much from them all.”
The association has about 300 members and boasts about 1200 day visits per month. Upcoming events include a bazaar on Saturday, April 27th with a silent auction, crafts, white elephant sale as well as home baking, burgers and hotdogs. The centre is open weekdays, excluding statutory holidays from about 8 a.m. till 3 p.m. with lunch available from 11 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. and everyone is welcome. Hornbrook invites people to drop in and see what the centre has to offer.
“If you’re out there and not sure, just drop in for a coffee. You may be surprised!”