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Feeding Bodies & Souls in the Rural Ozarks: Introduction

Senior centers focus of Coover Regional Senior Center Support Grant Program

Coover Regional Senior Center Support Grant Program

Grants invest $261,777 to help senior centers improve infrastructure and ability to serve

It’s more than a meal, a handshake or a hug. For local senior centers throughout the Ozarks, those seemingly simple things are part of a greater mission: To ensure that people, primarily older adults, have a way to receive life-changing sustenance.

Sometimes that comes in the form of a meal — perhaps they can’t afford the cost, or the risk to cook one themselves due to physical limitations. For others, the centers satisfy another hunger by providing connections to friends.

Despite senior centers’ life-changing work, a recipe to solve financial realities can be tougher to make than the most-loved dishes they serve. To help in these endeavors, $261,777 has been granted to 18 senior centers across the region through the Coover Regional Senior Center Support Grant Program, funded by the Louis L. and Julia Dorothy Coover Charitable Foundation. The Community Foundation of the Ozarks administers the grantmaking for the private foundation managed by ​​Commerce Trust Company.

“Grantmaking from the Louis L. and Julia Dorothy Coover Charitable Foundation is intentionally flexible to meet the emerging needs of our region,” said Jill Reynolds, senior vice president at Commerce Trust Company, in a release about the grants. “By serving as a social hub and offering nutritious meals, senior centers play such an important role in rural communities. We’re so glad to help these centers better serve the people who depend on them.”

Over the last few years, the Coover Regional program’s funding focus has shifted to help agencies respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in rural communities. This year, as that recovery continues, grants will help with a variety of needs — from new flooring to freezers and even vehicles to deliver meals — after many centers closed for extended periods or experienced a drastic shift in services.

“We found that senior centers had really significant needs, due to being unable to use or update their facilities as they rushed to reallocate all their effort and money to delivering meals,” says Bridget Dierks, vice president of programs at the CFO. “We were very aware that senior centers receive less and less government funding to support their buildings, but are still doing just as much work in those buildings as they deteriorate. This is particularly severe in rural communities without notable county senior tax support.”

We visited three of the grant recipients to better understand not just the challenges faced by senior centers, but also the tremendous value they bring to the health and happiness of senior residents in rural communities.

By Kaitlyn McConnell, writer in residence for the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

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