Last spring, the Wheaton Senior Center was struggling. With the number of active members was dwindling each year, the senior center board learned that Nutrition Services, Inc. (NSI) funds had been cut. In order to keep the senior center going, the cooks were going to get their hours cut. Things were looking grim. “Carrie (Ehlers) and I couldn’t stay if our hours were cut back,” said Dee Dee Klugman, site manager and cook. Then Dee Dee came up with an idea. “I talked to the senior board and asked them to consider opening the senior center up to the public (as a diner),” said Klugman. “Otherwise, I felt like we would have had to leave and the seniors would have probably closed the doors.” Marvin Bach, president of the Senior Center, knew something had to change to keep the senior center going. “We would have lost our cooks and so our board talked about the idea of going public,” he said. “We talked to the other cafes in town and they were supportive. We wanted their blessing. Our intention was and is not to take their business but to try and build ours.” The senior board decided to give it a shot, and opened the Wheaton Community Diner and Cafe on June 21, 2010. And people took notice. “After they changed it to public, there were more seniors coming then when it was just the senior center,” said Klugman. “And many were seniors that really needed a good healthy meal.” Today, the group is serving about 50-70 meals every day. They had to update some of their equipment because of the increased traffic and have tried different ideas to make things work as smooth as possible. Some ideas didn’t work (Sunday lunch) and some ideas seem to be working well (Sunday evening meal), but it is still a learning experience for all parties involved. “We are happy to hear new ideas and will try them,” said Bach. “We are here to serve this community.” Bach is a regular at the cafe, and not just for a meal. He is called upon to help on a variety of things that pop up at the restaurant. Marv’s wife jokingly says, “Marv has many ‘to do’ tasks at home, but he always puts Dee Dee first!” The Cafe is open every day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Customers can either purchase a meal off the NSI meal plan at a reduced rate, or they can buy a meal off the menu. The Wheaton Community Diner and Cafe, which is a Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) site through Senior Corps, is located in downtown Wheaton.
Facing possible closure, senior center opens cafe