In between talk of health, family, and the happenings in town, Stonyford’s senior citizens take a bite of a sandwich, snack, or some other food they brought to the Community Hall from home.

At one time, a popular government-run senior nutrition program brought the community’s aging adults together each week in a congregate setting in order to promote better health, improve nutrition, and reduce isolation, but budget cuts have long since ended delivery of prepared meals in rural areas.

“They use to bring the food all the way from Orland,” said Ruth Hackelberg, who runs the weekly luncheon as a casual program. “It was very nice.”

Stonyford’s senior nutrition program started in 1983 when it became known to foothill residents that other Colusa County communities received nutritional services, funded largely by state and federal programs for the elderly.

Once funding was in place for Stonyford, meals were prepared first by Fouts Springs Boys Ranch, and later the Timberline. Not long after, the Glenn County Office of Education took over the senior nutrition program that served Stonyford.

“We use to have about 40 people that came every week,” said Hackelberg, who has been site manager since the mid 1980s. “It was really nice. I had five assistants to help serve.”

Seniors would gather in the Old Town Hall, which now houses the Stonyford Museum, and were served prepared food restaurant-style on linen-covered tables.

In addition to a meal, the program allowed seniors to take part in activities like cards, music, exercise, holiday and birthday parties, blood pressure monitoring, and other health programs.

But when state and federal funding started drying up, so did the nutrition programs in rural communities. Today, the five-day-a-week senior nutrition program ran by Colusa County Health and Human Services at the Boy Scout Cabin in Colusa is the only funded congregate nutrition program in the county, and seniors from surrounding communities drive or take the Transit into town to take part, county officials said.

Yet, the lack of prepared meals has never stopped Stonyford seniors from socializing over lunch.

They meet at noon on Thursdays in the Stonyford Community Hall, although the crowd has dwindled to about a dozen, and is even smaller during flu season.

“Some people bring a sandwich; some will bring soup or a salad,” Hackelberg said.

Bingo follows lunch, and players buy in for a quarter a game, from which some of the proceeds help to provide communal refreshments like coffee, tea, and chips.

As the last blackout game wraps up, the winner takes the pot and promises to bring dessert the following week, a spin on an old Mardi Gras tradition that works well for a resourceful group of seniors that never folded on the cards they were dealt.

“If we had more people, the pots would be bigger,” Sandy Stahr said, with a laugh, referring to Bingo payouts that make playing the game enticing.

Stahr and her husband, Jerry, retired in Stonyford from Concord, and have enjoyed the activity for about five years.

“We really didn’t meet people up here until I went to a Bunco party and met Joyce (Bond),” Stahr said. “The next day, she called me and asked if I wanted to work at the museum.”

Stahr said Bond called again the following day and invited her to another event, and then soon called again for another.

“So, I finally met people,” Stahr said. “And then I found out about Bingo. Joyce had me meeting everybody.”

Although the weekly program no longer attracts a large crowd, nor does it have the kind of meals that once played a dominant role in preventative health, nutrition and long-term care of the elderly, Hackelberg is determined that Stonyford’s seniors remember that socialization playes an equal part in their well being.

Studies have shown that seniors 60 and older who are socially active have slower rates of declining memory, lower blood pressure, better immune systems, and less physical pain that is reinforced by depression.

At 86, Hackelberg is active with the Volunteer Fire Department, and maintains the Indian Valley Cemetery.

“I love every minute of it,” she said. “It keeps me going.”

Those activities, Hackelberg said, have strengthened her resolve to keep the senior luncheon going as well – not just for her, but also for others.

“I just like people,” she said. “I’m going to do this for as long as I can.” ■