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Volunteer kitchen staff at Senior Center serves food, takes pride in helping out the co

Posted: July 9, 2012 1:30 a.m.
Updated: July 9, 2012 1:30 a.m.

Volunteers Dana Blackman, left, and Edwin Polinsky clean trays from tables after lunch at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center recently in Newhall.

 

Lunch might be a mundane occurrence for some, but for the hundreds who gather five days a week at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center for their midday meal, it’s anything but routine.

“The kitchen staff provides more than nutritious food — they facilitate an event that brings our senior citizens together,” said Robin Clough, SCV Senior Center director of volunteers.

Every Monday through Friday, the three-person kitchen staff, aided by scores of volunteers, prepares between 300 and 500 meals for SCV seniors.

“The kitchen staff is the backbone of the meal,” Clough said. “They’re back in the kitchen working hard and out of sight, so they’re obviously not out to get any kudos.”

Serving hundreds can be hard work, said assistant cook Julio Rodriguez, but the good will and humor of the seniors is contagious.

“The seniors make it all worthwhile, and I really enjoy talking with them,” Rodriguez said. “They all have a lot of experience and a variety of stories to tell. They make this a very interesting job.”

Rodriguez, 32, works with kitchen assistant Gilberto Leon, 59, and head cook Ruben Rosales, 56, to prepare the meals. The three usually arrive at the center around 6 a.m. to prepare for the 11:30 a.m. lunch.

“The kitchen staff has a full day — they start with preparing the day’s meal, and at the end of the day they’re already preparing the next day’s meal,” said Rachelle Dardeau, Senior Center executive director.

The center’s large kitchen provides the trio with everything they need including ample cupboard and storage areas, a walk-in refrigerator, a food packing area and enough modern kitchen ware to make celebrity chefs Paula Dean or Emeril Lagasse jealous.

Helping the cooks at any given lunchtime are at least 15 and 20 volunteers, who can be seen serving meals, cleaning tables or mingling with the seniors.

Volunteer Julianne Aquino, of Canyon Country, has assisted the kitchen staff two to three times a week for more than a year, she said.

“Everyone should volunteer to do this,” Aquino said. “You’re going to meet a lot of different people here and it’s a lot of fun. The seniors look forward to seeing us and they all have so much love to give.”

The service the kitchen staff provides goes far beyond cooking meals, Clough said.

“They provide a means for us to bring our seniors together,” she said. “Everyone here is like family and because of the kitchen staff, it’s like a great big Thanksgiving dinner here every day.”

More than 60 years older than Aquino is kitchen staff volunteer Dolores Baron, 85, of Saugus. Baron has assisted the kitchen staff for more than seven years, she said.

“Volunteering fulfills my life and makes me feel very good,” Baron said. “I’ll continue helping the kitchen staff for long as I can walk, as long as I can see and as long as I have the energy.”

Still, all accolades seem to wind their way back to the kitchen staff and their ever-changing menu.

“They keep us on our toes,” Clough said. “What you might get on one Wednesday you won’t get the next. The menu varies, so if a person were to come here on one day, they won’t have to worry about eating the same thing on the following day.”

The culinary skills of the kitchen staff are so highly regarded by the seniors they often lead to a packed house.

“There’s a line out the door on chicken day and their chili egg puff is always a favorite,” Clough said. “There are times when the place is packed because of the menu they prepare.”

The kitchen staff works hard to keep the menu interesting.

“They’re always concerned with what the seniors would like,” Clough said. “That’s always their priority, so in addition to doing their jobs, they take pride in doing something meaningful for someone else.”

The kitchen staff appreciates the compliments but lack time to rest on their heels, Leon said.

“We’re always very busy,” he said. “There’s a lot of preparation when you’re cooking for this many people, but we enjoy it.”

The SCV Senior Center is located at 22900 Market St., Newhall. For more information call 661-255-1588.

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