116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
February fire renews effort to rebuild community
CEDAR RAPIDS — A new dining site is serving a heaping helping of community alongside its hot dishes at downtown’s Geneva Tower.
The dining site for tenants as well as members of the public opened July 12 as a partnership between Horizons, a subcontractor for the Heritage Area Agency on Aging, and the Affordable Housing Network of Iowa, which manages the property at 310 Fifth Ave. SE.
Three times per week, residents and others over 60 are eligible to eat lunch with a suggested donation of $5. Others can join for a cost of $6.
The renewed effort, prompted by a push from a February fire in the building for the elderly and disabled, serves to rebuild a community that has faced more acute isolation since the pandemic started.
“We used to have a real good (community). Then we lost everything with the pandemic and other changes in the building,” said Donna Wullne, a Geneva Tower resident and volunteer who serves meals in the community room. “We’re trying to build it back.”
A grand opening for the new dining site at Geneva Tower, 310 Fifth Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids, will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Meals are served every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to noon in the community room. Adults over 60 are eligible for lunch with a suggested donation of $5. The cost to all others is $6.
To volunteer or donate to Horizons to make meal service possible, visit horizonsfamily.org or contact Melissa Wahl at (319) 375-3114.
The community room, an extension of home for hundreds of residents in the tower, already had virtually everything it needed to host meals. With a dishwashing sink, serving window, refrigerator and tables and chairs, the new site started serving meals with nominal startup costs.
Horizons — which administers the local Meals on Wheels program — was able to secure the new service thanks to resident volunteers. About 40 residents at Geneva Tower are regularly signed up for meals, said Melissa Wahl, director of community health and nutrition for the nonprofit.
In an area of town some residents called a food desert, the need for hot meals is as big as ever. Geneva Tower residents live in efficiency or one-bedroom apartments with small kitchens and many do not own vehicles. Many residents are single and, with few resources, have much more difficulty reaching grocery stores located outside the downtown district.
“The prices have skyrocketed again,” said Wullne. “Most of us get less than $30 a month in food stamps to buy food. Healthy eating is outrageous (expensive). It’s needed.”
With capacity for roughly 50 people to eat at a time, the new service offers a form of dignity to residents with what is sometimes their only hot meal of the day. An extension of Meals on Wheels, the dining site helps seniors and disabled residents live independently in their homes longer with minimal expense.
Though the idea had been tossed around before, the fire in the income-based apartment building and new leadership helped make it a reality.
“We did see the city rally around Geneva Tower residents. It was perfect timing to start the collaboration and offer that service,” said Danielle Rodriguez, director of the affordable housing network. “The fire just put more eyes on the community to see that this is their home, and not just a place.”
And with a chance to see each other longer than usual in passing through the laundry room or elevator, lunch here is more than a form of sustenance.
“When you sit across the table and break bread with someone, you find out you have a lot in common,” said Pam Hotchkiss, tenant relations specialist in the building since 1990. “I’m human, you’re human.”
Eventually, Horizons and the affordable housing network hope to expand days of meal service and bring in speakers and entertainment.
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