No one should go hungry for the holidays — or any other time of year.

That’s the message Chris Duffy, nutrition coordinator for the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District, conveys every weekday with programs feeding senior citizens, either homebound or at the Bob Chisholm Community Center.

Duffy and the district teamed with the Warrenton-based agency Inner Potential to help prepare and serve meals for seniors from Seaside, Gearhart and Cannon Beach. With students from Seaside, Warrenton and Astoria, their mission is to partner with individuals experiencing intellectual or developmental disabilities in achieving a healthy and fulfilling life.

“They were looking for something proactive to help their students learn hands-on activities, counting, organization, timing, serve-out on meals and the lunch,” Duffy said. “The partnership has been fantastic and very well-received by the students.”

Weekdays, any senior over 60 may come in and eat, Duffy said. Hot meals are served Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 11:45 a.m. The center serves soup and sandwiches Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Meals consist of about 800 calories, with a starter salad and “a lot of proteins,” Duffy said. “If there are dietary restrictions, we make accommodations for that.”

Since the program’s debut in August, the community center has averaged about 26 diners and volunteers a day. Wednesday is considered the peak day, with about 30 diners.

Members of the group help prepare about 200 meals a week as part of the Meals on Wheels program, which delivers food to about 40 clients in the South County.

“It’s not only the food they get, which is good, but they get to talk to people because it can be very lonely when you leave alone,” diner Jean Wilson, 93, said, adding: “I don’t have any trouble with loneliness because I read all the time.”

At lunchtime, socializing is a main draw.

“Monday morning, we have people start getting here at 11:15 when we have the coffee out,” Duffy said. “For them to sit down at a table and talk about the weekend and events throughout the week — that to me is as important as getting that nutritious meal, that balanced meal.”

Diners look forward to seeing friends and socializing.

“I underestimated how important that would be,” Duffy said. “About once a month we’ll bring in a musician, games — but the idea is to be able to meet with your peers.”

Kevin Okerlund of Inner Potential said the volunteer work brings new skills and career potential, possibly in the local hospitality or kitchen industries.

“It’s been really neat to see how independent they’re becoming, and how the seniors have really responded,” he said.

Interaction between students and seniors is an added benefit, Inner Potential’s Sue Thurston said.

“Building those connections in the community is really important, for people who sometimes may not have had that in their lives,” she said. “As long as everyone is committed and it remains positive, they really look forward to coming.”

R.J. Marx is The Daily Astorian’s South County reporter and editor of the Seaside Signal and Cannon Beach Gazette.

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