On April 10, Saco Parks and Recreation Department Director Ryan Sommer scoops shepherd’s pie from the Golden Rooster Restaurant into to-go boxes for distribution to Saco seniors during the second week of the senior meal program in the Saco Community Center gymnasium. Courtesy photo/Andrew Dickinson, City of Saco

SACO — Residents 50 and older tucked into American chop suey on the first Friday in April, shepherd’s pie on the second, and are expected to enjoy rice, beans, and chicken on the third Friday of the month, courtesy of local restaurants and local sponsors.

The meals program originated with the Saco Parks and Recreation Department’s SENIORity initiative as COVID-19 made its presence known in Maine, and city officials sought to find a way to support seniors and support local businesses at the same time.

The meals are free to those who sign up; they can be picked up in the parking lot at the Saco Community Center, 75 Franklin St.; if pickup is not an option delivery assistance is available, organizers say.

Saco Parks and Recreation Wellness and Program Coordinator Amelia Meier hands a meal to a recipient in the rain at the Saco Community Center on April 3, the first Friday of a new meal program aimed at Saco residents 50 and older. Andrew Dickinson/City of Saco.

Sign-ups must be made by noon on Thursdays for that Friday’s meal. Saco residents 50 and older who’d like a meal should call or text 294-2436 with their name and the names of others in the home who would like a meal, or e-mail: [email protected].

“We are thrilled to be able to serve the senior community and offer these free meals, as well as partner with the local restaurants and provide them with business during these tough times,” said Amelia Meier of Saco Parks and Recreation.

Saco Communications Director Emily Roy estimated that 300 meals were served over the first two Fridays of the program. She said restaurants have offered reduced prices for the meals, at about $5 each. Saco Park and Recreation picked up the tab for the meals the first week, which were prepared by the Golden Rooster. This week, Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution will pay for the meals, which will be prepared by Quiero Cafe. Roy said the Rotary Club of Biddeford and Saco has donated $500 to the program, and that Age Friendly Saco has pledged to fund a future meal. As well as preparing the food the Golden Rooster supplied the to-go packaging the first two weeks and Saco Main Street the third — this alone saving the city about $100 a week, Roy estimated.

“Over the years and during times of prosperity, we ask are local businesses to sponsor events, teams, and donate to causes,” said Saco Mayor William Doyle. “Our local businesses need our help now more than ever. The Friday meal program is a great way to partner with those local businesses while providing a meal for our community.”

“It has definitely helped our business,” said Michael Rizeakos, general manager of the Golden Rooster.

Rizeakos said being involved in the meal program has been a way to help support the community — that in turn supports the restaurant.

Golden Rooster, a longtime Main Street eatery, is among local restaurants staying open to provide curbside takeout service during the coronavirus epidemic, and has developed an array of $8 meals to entice diners.

Saco’s two School Resource Officers are also helping out with the meal program, Roy said. They now have expanded roles as Community Resource officers, assisting with meal deliveries. In addition, they are continuing to connect with students by reading books via video, sending Happy Birthday wishes over their cruiser’s public address system, and offering support to families.

In all, between recreation staff, SROs, city staff and elected officials, about a dozen people help with the program each week, Roy estimated.

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