Guitar music and song lilted across the room and mingled with soft laughter and conversation. Someone shared her amazement as she recognized another at her table as a high school classmate. The two had not seen each other for 50 years and began catching up, with others chiming in with bits of information about other classmates and teachers. The scene was the Friday Brunch at the Healdsburg Senior Center’s Bistro and locals are discovering its charm.
The Council on Aging in Santa Rosa oversees the Healdsburg Senior Center’s Bistro as well as the Healdsburg Meals on Wheels program.
The Meals on Wheels food is prepared in Santa Rosa’s Council on Aging’s kitchen and delivered to the senior center. The food is then delivered into the community by Healdsburg volunteers, like Wally and Shelly Schults, who left with large containers filled with hot meals.
The Council on Aging also rents the kitchen at the Healdsburg Senior Center and the bistro food is prepared in-house by staff and volunteers. Fresh ingredients are sent from The Council on Aging along with a dietitian’s meal for the day.
“Friday is a little special,” explained Jane Farkas, executive volunteer with the bistro. On Fridays, the bistro hosts a brunch and they serve eggs benedict, huevos rancheros, french toast, hash browns and eggs any style. Live music is provided by Marty Brown.
Farkas explained that since the food is being made from scratch, they can remove ingredients when requested. She said that everything is individualized for everybody and they will accommodate special diets or allergies as best they can.
One brunch guest with gluten and dairy intolerance was served huevos rancheros with corn tortillas and no dairy. It arrived at the table and others exclaimed, “ooh, what is that?” and asked for the same. All at the table commented on the freshness of the ingredients and were pleased with the flavorful offerings.
“The affordability and the opportunity to be in community is really important for seniors that are individually not in community,” explained Farkas. “If they live alone and they don’t get out, this is a great opportunity to sit at a table with your fellow community people, eat healthy food and be a part of community. So, it does multiple things in helping enrich the community with giving them purpose, giving them reason. For $4, you can’t get eggs benedict anywhere. They get coffee, they get orange juice, they get the full meal, everything, and we serve it with plates and silverware.”
Farkas said she enjoys the guests that come in and that “they’re very loving and kind people, they’re very appreciative of what we do and I love making friends in this community.”
Beatriz Amaya is the Council on Aging’s paid site manager and she oversees the bistro as well as the volunteers delivering the Meals on Wheels food. She said it’s important that there be a place for seniors to feel welcomed and appreciated. She spoke of her love for her grandfather and how that has influenced her work with seniors and the bistro.
Amaya beamed as she explained that her father Gilbert Camacho, daughter Isa-Bella Amaya and son Jonathan Amaya all have volunteered at the bistro. Isa-Bella, 11, created handmade signs to remind the seniors that they meant a lot to her. Her father, Camacho, was busy in the bistro kitchen helping with the food preparation and ushering out reporters not wearing a hair net.
Elizabeth Vega was enjoying her brunch as she sat talking with fellow diners. Vega drives for the Meals on Wheels program and a friend volunteers preparing bistro food. She said she first tried the bistro because her friend encouraged her to, and she already knew the food was good. She says she keeps coming back because of the quality of the food and because of how “big hearted” everyone is.
Vega spoke of her late father, Bill Hayes, who had been a local minister and was very active in the community. Vega is a music teacher and she was carrying an unique old ukulele of her father’s as well as a photograph of him to show ukulele students later that day at the senior center. Her father had taken up an instrument at 70 and she hoped to inspire others with that story.
Steve Piotter said he and his wife Judy frequent the bistro because, “They’re good meals, they’re reasonably priced and we like to support the senior center.” Judy Piotter said she had especially enjoyed an ice-cream social they had attended there in the past. “I have attended all of the Mother’s Day luncheons with my mother,” she said. She noted that a photo of her and her mother, taken at one of the luncheons, hangs in the senior center’s hallway.
Catherine Campbell laughed as she explained that her son told her that she should go to the senior center and she had thought, “Oh, but those are old people.” Instead she found that, “People are so comforting and so nice.”
“The most wonderful thing is being with all of these people,” added Farkas. “We’re all on a limited time-span on this planet. As they’re at the other end of the day-care world, they still need love and support.”
The Healdsburg Senior Center Bistro serves luncheons Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and a Friday Brunch served during the same hours. Suggested donations are $4 for those 60-plus years and $6.50 for those under 60 years of age.