Ground-breaking for Hilltop Regional Kitchen is an emotional event for many participants
With tears in his eyes, Rick Hest, president of the Eagle Bend Senior Citizens Center, expressed his joy in seeing the Eagle Bend School being put back into use.
“It was hard to watch the building sit empty,” said Hest who taught at the school for over 30 years. “To see a part go back into use is a big deal.”
The use Hest was talking about was the Hilltop Regional Kitchen.
After years of thought, planning and fundraising, the kitchen on the hill will be coming to the first phase of fruition as soon as June 2017.
Meals have been served and prepared from the Eagle Bend Senior Center kitchen for many years. In August of this year, the all-time record of 4,993 meals served was set.
From 25,000 meals served from the facility in 2012 to 54,000 so far in 2016, the center has been in need of more space for some time.
The women who run the kitchen do so with an efficiency that is unmatched. But lack of storage space has limited them to some degree.
Hest said it was “a shot in the arm” when you saw places like this come back to life.
With approximately 100 people in the former garage shop area of the school, it was easy to see the life and warmth, even on the cold day of the ground-breaking on Oct. 19.
Hest spoke about the many different organizations who made this day possible including the South Country Health Alliance who he described as the “catalyst” for the big part of this project with their grant of $465,000.
“We stopped thinking of it as the Eagle Bend project and began to think of all the places that the kitchen reached,” he said.
The shop and other parts of the building are being leased for the next 25 years for use as the kitchen and congregate dining (Phase One). Other phases and uses are planned for the future.
Through the efforts of people on the committee and those interested in seeing this project succeed, $215,000 was raised since January of this year.
Hest then took the crowd on a “imagination tour” of what the shop room would look like when Phase One was finished.
There were several speakers who talked about this project including SCHA CEO Leota Lind.
She said that the kitchen project had captured their attention and demonstrated all of the diamond values of SCHA.
“Taking a building that has been part of the life and history of a community and breathing new life with a new purpose into it is fantastic,” said Lind.
“I applaud this community for reaching this goal and I am excited to come back in six to eight months and see it in its glory,” she added.
Lind said they would bring a team up to help with painting or serving a meal because they feel they are a part of this project and this community.
Hest said that the goal was to rebid the project this fall and open those bids in mid-November. Since the majority of the project is inside work, it will be worked on over winter.
“We are planning for June 1 to start serving meals from here,” said Hest.
Hest added that people who deliver the Meals on Wheels might be the only people that some of those who receive the meals see each day.
“This helps them stay in their homes and keeps them healthy,” said Hest.
Loren Coleman from the Department of Health and Human Services proudly said that others can learn from what Minnesota has done, but it can’t be copied.
He congratulated Eagle Bend and Todd County as one of those communities that hasn’t “waited to be told what to do.”
Coleman talked about the Live Well at Home grant through DHS.
Hest added that much of the equipment for the kitchen will come from the money from that grant.
They have secured $127,000 in grants from Live Well at Home.
Judy Petrie from Staples was another speaker. She said she was so pleased to be part of this project.
“In 2003 my husband died and that was how I learned about congregate dining. I was invited to a lunch at the Staples Senior Center,” she said.
She talked about the four things that stand out about the program.
o Meals on Wheels.
o Senior Center Meals
o Bundled Meals (served outside of city limits in two week quantities)
o Tickets which can be used to go out for a meal at participating restaurants and at the senior centers.
“I am lucky to be here and have these partners. Thanks to them, I will be enjoying these meals for many years to come,” said Petrie.
Paul Drange from National Joint Powers Association talked about the $100,000 that was given to the project and the impact that will be felt throughout the region with this program.
“It’s a great regional project built on cooperation,” Drange noted. “The kitchen will help meet the basic needs of hundreds of area residents while repurposing a vacant building in our community.”
Katherine Mackedanz of Todd County Health and Human Services was introduced by Hest as “without her, this project doesn’t happen”.
She said that she loves working on this project and that Eagle Bend is now her ideal destination.
Julie Myhre from the Minnesota Department of Health and a vital part of the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) talked about the great work being done here.
“This is a very innovative and responsive project and it will be incredible what you will provide,” said Myhre.
She said this project was about “community building” through a community facility which will provide social cohesiveness.
She said the future plans for the facility were exciting and that there were “so many ways this facility would be meeting a need.”
Terri Weyer of Lutheran Social Services who considers herself “more of worker bee” than a speaker, introduced Roxanne Jenkins also from LSS.
Jenkins said she “could not say enough about this project. LSS is about good neighbors and we are honored to be a part of the Hilltop Regional Kitchen.”
She said they’d been talking and talking about this sort of thing.
“We should’ve just sent them to Eagle Bend,” she said which was followed by laughter from the crowd.
“You are delivering a meal and a connection,” she added.
“We’ re here because of everyone’s efforts. We are humbled by the expression of commitment. Congratulations everyone! You did it!” said Jenkins.