Clark Fischer (center) contemplates his billiards shot while Ernie Silva (left) and Robert Gonzales (right) wait it out.
Jay Ann Cox | El Defensor Chieftain photos

Last Thursday, with the billiards tables dusted off, the jigsaw puzzles spread out and the TV tuned in to “Gunsmoke,” the doors of the Socorro Senior Center swung open, ready for business.

Just inside at her station was Helen Griego, a senior volunteer signing people in, handing out information packets and raffle tickets for the first big day, and greeting one and all with a glowing smile.

Linda Mares, the center manager, was everywhere all at once, checking on lunch preparations in the kitchen, answering the phone, and welcoming everyone back.

Linda Mares (right) is the site manager of the Senior Center. On opening day, Mares welcomes Lorraine Trujillo of Magdalena who often joins her brother for lunch.
Jay Ann Cox | El Defensor Chieftain

“We are trying to make it as nice as we can,” Mares said, “you know, business as usual.” At first, some services will be limited, such as there are no “grab-and-go” lunchboxes, and Mares is not sure that program will come back as it was a COVID-related program.

However, the current expectation is that the center will be serving lunch in-house to 25-30 patrons daily, and making home deliveries to 25-30 more, five days a week. The hours will remain the same as in the past, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Last Thursday’s lunch was chili cheese dogs, fruit and a big “welcome back” cake. State Rep. Tara Jaramillo was present to visit with friends and constituents, and to help serve food.

In addition to Rep. Jaramillo, on hand for the opening were Neil Segotta, the director of the Non-Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging, and Monica Abeita, executive director of the North Central New Mexico Economic Development District. Both of these state groups are providing support and funding along with the city of Socorro to get the center up and running.

Segotta (who is also the mayor of Raton), said, “Grant money comes from the federal Older Americans Act as well as the New Mexico House Bill 2 General Fund. But also from private donations.” Seniors who use the center are under no obligation – there is no charge, said Segotta, but “we do ask for a donation and some of them make one gladly.”

A handout given by Griego as patrons enter explains that it is a “low-cost meal program” not a free meal. Some seniors are able to afford a contribution to the cost which helps those who cannot.

State Rep. Tara Jaramillo works the food line at the Socorro Senior Center on opening day.

The flyer states: “These (government) funds are not enough to cover the full cost of the meal. Contributions made by participants in the meal program help make up the shortfall. Last year, $1,767,000 was donated by participants in New Mexico.” That additional income into the program may help expand services, for example, a breakfast program or weekend meals for the homebound.

Non-seniors are welcome to pay the full price to enjoy lunch with their senior friends and family.

Also on hand was Carlos Savedra from the city of Socorro’s transportation department, sharing information and promoting the rides to and from the center that are available, and identifying some of the challenges that area seniors have with transportation. Call 575-835-1501 to schedule or receive information about this city service.

Plans for the Magdalena Senior Center are in full swing, with a proposed July opening, while the future of the Veguita Center is still undecided.

On May 23, the County Commissioners approved the donation of equipment that was removed when the county ceased operation of the center. It was all returned this week.

Mares said that in July, monthly Friday evening Bingo will return, as well as other programming, depending on the volunteers available.

The Socorro Senior Center is located at 1410 Ake Avenue, just off Bullock. The phone number is 575-517-5059.

Jay Ann Cox, El Defensor Chieftain Editor