NEGAUNEE - The tables at the Negaunee Senior Center were filled with people anxiously awaiting the lunch about to be served.
It's that way most Wednesdays, said Kristy Basolo, center coordinator.
"They love Scott. They love the food he makes," she said.
Meatloaf — 30 pounds of it — along with mashed potatoes, gravy and green beans were on the menu. For dessert, much to the diners’ delight, was “stained glass” Jello. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
Marion Olson, left and Scott Collins dish up meatloaf and all the trimmings at a recent Wednesday senior meal at the Negaunee Senior Center. Collins is the center’s cook and Olson has been his helper for several years. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
On any given Wednesday, anywhere from 30 to 70 meals are served at the center. Some meals are taken out as well. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
Scott is Scott Collins, who has been the Negaunee Senior Center's head cook for three years. Collins, who credits his home economics teacher Mrs. Fassbender for his interest in culinary arts.
"She taught me the basics and I took it from there," he said. "My parents (Ron and Claudine) were both good cooks, too.
"I worked at a nursing home in Green Bay (Wis.) and that's where I learned to do things in quantity."
Which is a good thing because the meals Collins makes have made the Negaunee Senior Center a busy place on the days he's cooking.
"We make for anywhere from 40 to 70 people including to-gos," Collins said. "Quality is the challenge, for the price."
This particular Wednesday he had prepared 30 pounds of meatloaf, plus mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans and "stained glass" Jello for dessert. Fruit is placed on all the tables for the seniors to enjoy as part of their meal, with coffee and other beverages on the menu as well.
"When I am cooking, easy on the salt is the rule here. I think old-fashioned cooking is good," he said. "I think their favorite things that I make are pasty pie and meatloaf."
His kitchen helper, Marion Olson, chimed in with some other choices.
"Scott makes a mean fried chicken," she said. "And a delicious spaghetti sauce."
Collins said the "fried" chicken is actually oven baked in an effort to make it healthier. His kitchen is a busy place, especially on Tuesdays in preparation for Wednesdays.
"I also baked pies that we'll sell during the Farmer's Market later," he said of what he did that particular Tuesday. "I also made homemade baked goods, rolls and such, for the card players."
All of Collins's efforts are appreciated, Basolo said.
"After this meal, we have cards so it's great that the lunches are so popular, because that brings the seniors in," she said. "There's the social aspect of things. People get used to it, having the same people here to talk with their friends.
"We really try to encourage new seniors to come to meals because it's a great to learn about other things going on at the center," Basolo said. "We watch for new faces when they come in. They sometimes have that 'doe in headlights' look. Scott's meals make them feel comfortable right away."
In the past, there was a "lunch line" in which seniors waited for the meals, then carried the food to the tables.
"It just made more sense for us to do this as a sit-down meal," Basolo said. "The seniors then get to sit and socialize. We have a lot of volunteers to help with serving the meal. And some of the seniors help bus the tables so that the staff can eat, too."
To-go containers are available for seniors who are homebound.
"We have a lot of people who pick up meals for their (senior) parents," Basolo said.
The tables are festooned with publicity for upcoming events at the center, which is a good promo tool, she said.
"These meals are important to us," Basolo said. "They are great for getting the word out about other things we are doing. And they are a big part of what we do for fundraising. People will donate a little extra than the charge or will donate food to be prepared for the meal.
"We make about one-third of our budget from these meals," she said.
Basolo said Olson has been a great addition to the meal staff.
"She does so much. She sets up things and keeps it all going," she said. "She's great."
Olson, who's been helping in the kitchen for about two years, in turn said Collins makes things easy.
"Scott's great to work for. I really enjoy it," she said. "And the meals are served promptly at 11:30 a.m."
"My food's ready at 11:30," he said. "And they're ready to eat. So let's go."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.