It could be a lifeline.
"For many people, we are the only people they see in a day," Alton Senior Center Assistant Director Barbara Nix said Thursday, Aug. 11.
Three hot meal routes go out every day, the longest of which is 13 miles long.
If not for the meal program, funded in part by the Southwest Missouri Office on Aging, many seniors would not get the nutrition they need.
"I feel that a lot of them wouldn't get enough to eat," Nix said.
As they go about their deliveries five days a week, the volunteer drivers and carriers get to know their customers, and can quickly discern if something is wrong at the house, center Director Pam Simpson said.
"If a screen door is unlocked and no one is around, they start looking in windows and calling family," Simpson said of her crew of volunteers. "Maybe the senior just went to the doctor, but, sometimes, they may be laying on the floor."
The volunteers are reimbursed for their mileage, although most donate the money back to the center, which operates with help from community donations and fundraisers.
Nix said the center could not afford to remain open without the generous contributions of volunteers.
"We couldn't operate without our volunteers. There is no possible way," Nix said.
Donating time and talents also has other rewards.
"I think volunteering is one of the most rewarding things people can do," Simpson said. "It has brought a lot of people out of their shells."
Besides meals, however, Simpson said, the center offers a host of activities to make life more enjoyable and less complex for seniors.
Simpson, Nix and others at the center can help seniors fill out property tax credit forms, research respite care, choose prescription plans, comprehend Medicaid programs, complete Social Security and Department of Family Services applications and more.
"It doesn't matter how busy we are," Simpson said. "We will always help. I don't ever want anyone to leave the center feeling as frustrated as when they came in."
The center now also has a small discretionary fund to help seniors with household issues of less than $500.
For example, the money helped pay for a home to be sprayed for fleas and another to repair a bathroom.
The center's vision is to be the first call for help, hope and advocacy for all seniors and their families.
Many activities also take place at the center daily, or on a monthly schedule, such as the footcare clinic, hearing aid services and eye care.
"If it has to do with seniors, we do it," Simpson said.
All services are for seniors age 60 and older and their spouses. Most services are by donation. Meals are at a suggested donation of $3.50 each, although the center will never turn away a senior who cannot afford a meal.
The Alton Senior Center owns its building, built in 1984, in part, by a grant, donations and fundraisers.
When it was first established in 1977, the center occupied the basement of the old Alton Elementary School, where the seniors heard bouncing basketballs on the floor above.
The cost of paving the parking lot, about $12,000, was paid with money raised by quilt raffles.
Pauline Raines and Cindi Hughes are just a few of the volunteers who come to the center to make quilts to be sold or raffled. Geraldine Holmes, an Experience Works employee, has helped instruct quilting at the center for several years.
"Hand-quilting is becoming a lost art," Simpson said.
Simpson said the center is seeking volunteers to help with machine quilting, which she said "is a lot of fun."
The center also helps seniors in arranging transportation through the Southeast Missouri Transportation System, that provides rides to those age 60 and older within a five-mile radius of Alton, to go shopping, to appointments or the center. Riders are asked for a contribution.