Elgin, Salvation Army cook up better site for senior meal prep
By Janelle Walker For The Courier-News September 12, 2012 9:40PM
Salvation Army employees Yolanda Cruz (left) and Anna Gomez prepare food dishes Wednesday during a Golden Diners event at the Hemmens in Elgin. The Salvation Army and the city of Elgin are partnering to launch a new kitchen to provide more than 800 nutritious hot meals a day through the Salvation Army Golden Diners program, which delivers the meals to seniors from Kane and McHenry counties. September 12, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 15, 2012 9:22AM
ELGIN — A conversation between Mayor David Kaptain and Salvation Army Golden Diners director Major Ken Nicolai had led to 150 more area seniors getting a hot meal five times a week.
The same conversation led to the Golden Diners program saving just under $200,000 a year on that program, Nicolai said. Not only will more seniors become part of the meal program, Golden Diners has eliminated its waiting list for the program, he added.
Beginning Oct. 1, the Golden Diners program will use the kitchens at The Hemmens Cultural Center downtown to cook and prepare meals for 800 senior citizens in Kane and McHenry counties, program sponsors announced this week.
“This came up for or five months ago,” Kaptain said Wednesday at a kick-off event at Hemmens.
Kaptain and Nicolai both serve on a committee, sponsored by the Area Agency on Aging of Northwestern Illinois, that looks at making communities livable for seniors. Those programs focus on allowing seniors to stay in their homes rather than living in assisted facilities.
Nicolai mentioned that the Golden Diners program needed an industrial kitchen of its own to prepare the meals, instead of using a more-expensive catering option, Kaptain said.
“I mentioned there was one in the basement of the Hemmens that isn’t used very much. Ken walked out of city hall, walked across to Hemmens, and talked to Butch (Wilhelmi), the director of Hemmens,” Kaptain said.
It’s been a tough year for the Golden Diners, Nicolai said. Formerly the captain of the Elgin Salvation Army, Nicolai now leads that program.
Last year, the state of Illinois reduced its grant funding by about 14 percent, he said. At the same time, the number of meals served each year has risen, from 147,000 two years ago to 170,000 meals a year now, he said.
The demand is only going to increase, Nicolai said.
Five days a week, staff and volunteers will use the Hemmens kitchens to prepare food for those 800 seniors. Hot meals are sealed by machine, then packed into trucks that keep the food hot. Meals are served in group settings at 10 locations across the two counties. Meals are delivered to home-bound residents in Aurora, Carpentersville, Hampshire, Elgin, Huntley and Harvard. Meals will not be served at Hemmens.
Golden Diners will pay the city $120 a day for the facilities, Wilhelmi said.
Other area caterers do, on occasion, rent the kitchen facilities for large food preparation, he said. The Hemmens exhibition hall, where the kitchens are located, is also rented for parties and weddings. The Golden Diners rental and hours should not conflict with that those events, Wilhelmi said.
On dates that the entire exhibition hall is rented, Golden Diners can prepare a cold meal for seniors for next-day delivery, he added.
“They will know in advance on days that they can’t be here so they can make accommodations for that,” Wilhelmi said.