Allan Higbee was lonely and hungry the first time he arrived on the doorstep of the Taylorsville Senior Center for a hot meal.
The 75-year-old ate a spaghetti-and-meatball lunch that day in 2002. He was the first customer to receive dinner as part of a program designed to help feed low-income elderly residents.
On Wednesday, Higbee, along with hundreds of others who have benefited from noon meals over the past decade, gathered to celebrate a notable milestone: the serving of the center's 100,000th meal.
"It's everything, you know, this is it," Higbee said, referring to the center where he has received lunch almost everyday since his first visit. Without the center he would have no place to eat, he said. He doesn't eat breakfast and rarely has a complete dinner.
He has seen friends come and go over the years. But the center has been home and a place to build a family with those who also spend quiet hours alone elsewhere.
Taylorsville Mayor Russ Wall on Wednesday paid homage to the difference the center has made in the lives of seniors.
A total of 19 senior centers exists in Salt Lake County, including the location in Taylorsville, with the target population served representing elderly citizens who are isolated, minorities or low-income. The centers' noon meals provide one-third of the minimum USDA recommended daily nutritional allowance.
Seniors smiled, clapped and nodded as Wall kicked off the festivities at the Taylorsville center, which was decorated with balloons and streamers for the occasion.
"We're here to celebrate the 100,000th lunch to be served in this facility, and we are very excited," said Wall.
Higbee was recognized at the celebration as the center's first guest. But the manager Stuart Lawson surprised two others in attendance when he called out the names of the center's 99,999th and 100,000th visitors.
Ella Manczuk, 68, and Deborah Van Natta, 65, were the recipients of those designations. They were seated in a place of honor along with Higbee. The trio's table was decked out with gift baskets and "fake" champagne. They were served the first lunches of the day by the mayor himself.
Van Natta and Manczuk said the center has fed them well beyond simply putting food in their stomachs.
Manczuk first came to the center in 2004. She said she visits about every other day to use the computer, to play bingo, to crochet and most importantly to socialize.
"Once your kids are grown up you just need to get out connecting with other people so you don't get depressed," she said.
Van Natta agreed.
"It's important for a lot of older adults to actually feel a part of their community and this is a great place to start," she said.
The center also employs volunteers who enjoy the opportunity to give back to the community and meet the center's visitors.
Robert Olsen, 65, is retired but comes to the center four days a week to cook, serve and wash dishes.
"This isn't work," he said. "Work is when you have a job, they pay you. You get benefits. [The] benefit from here is just meeting all the people."
Betty Hanneman, 85, teaches chair aerobics at the center an activity that gets her out of bed and moving.
"You [need] something to keep going," Hanneman said. "When you get married and your children grow up and your grandkids leave you and your great grandkids are gonewhat do you do?"
She's not afraid to recruit new visitors to the center.
"I will pick you up at 8 o'clock in the morning. Be ready," Hanneman said with a smile.
What • The Taylorsville Senior Center
Where • 4743 S. Plymouth View Drive (1650 West)
Contact • (801) 293-8340