Other than those who work there, it’s unlikely that many, if any, in Seymour realize that just two miles southwest of town off Highway BB, there’s a business that a year ago prepared more than a million meals for senior citizens across our state.
This year, more than 660,000 additional meals have been made in just over five months by a workforce of 20, most of them Seymour and Webster County residents.
The business is the AAA Center, which is working under the SeniorAge Area Agency on Aging.
Mark Price is the project site manager for the AAA Center.
Price is known to most in Seymour as the longtime owner of Cornerstone Catering, which for more than a decade provided a way for local not-for-profit groups to earn significant funds by packing box lunches and meals that were distributed across the U.S.
In his new role, Price is feeding hungry seniors.
And he’s doing it efficiently, saving SeniorAge more than $1 per meal versus it’s previous vendor while also creating 20 new jobs, locally.
“We wondered how we could serve our rural seniors better, and with many on fixed incomes, sometimes they have to choose medication over food, and we wanted to help eliminate that problem,” Price explained last Wednesday, June 9, as Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe and State Rep. Hannah Kelly, who represents Webster County in the 141st District, toured his packaging facility in rural Seymour.
The whole idea began back at the beginning of 2020, but production wasn’t supposed to fully begin until last August. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck the U.S. in late-March 2020 and senior centers closed, speeding up production became a “must.”
Price quickly got in contact with Kehoe to try and help seniors in Missouri while also bringing jobs to Seymour.
“Bringing jobs to this area is important to keeping people here,” Price noted. “Especially when the job has an impact, and the employees feel like they are valued by the work they are doing.”
In Seymour, the AAA Center operation was jump started last March, five months before the scheduled date.
“People got to work, and we found vendors so that when the centers closed, no seniors would go without a meal. And we’ve never missed a meal during this whole pandemic,” said Jennifer Shotwell, CEO of the AAA Center.
To date, more than 1,660,000 meals have been packaged since the inception of production in Seymour. Those meals have been delivered to senior citizens across the state. The company has even made strides to reach the larger-populated cities in Missouri to offer assistance.
“I really would like to expand our center in the coming years to help bring even more jobs to Seymour and Webster County,” Price said.
“In the next couple of years, I would really like to see our company grow to 50 employees.”
Price’s employees currently work three eight-hour days every week. They are paid an average of $14 to $20 per hour. Most importantly, the AAA Center provides a laid-back, yet productive, environment for his workers.
Meals are part of the employees’ benefits. Breakfast and lunch are served. There are prayers before those meals.
Snacks also are provided.
The end result is camaraderie.
And a healthy work environment.
“I want them (the employees) to feel like they are valued, because they are,” Price said with a smile. “They are doing amazing work, and if I can be someone who can help them do better, I want to do it.”
Shotwell shook her head in agreement.
“We currently have 42 different meals that we’ve made, and each go on a four-week rotation of 28 different meals,” she explained. “By doing this, we get a new meal into the homes of our seniors every day.
“Again, to reiterate on what Mark said, what’s occurred here at this facility in Seymour is nothing short of amazing. He’s saved us money, but most importantly, this (facility) is producing quality, tasty meals while also providing several jobs to people in rural Missouri.”
In the SeniorAge program, which includes senior citizens’ centers across Missouri, including the Seymour Senior Citizens’ Center on the west side of the square, seniors are provided seven meals a week for a suggested price of $3.50 each.
But the program is all contribution based, and no matter what a senior citizen’s need for meals may be, he or she can take advantage of the service by paying what they can afford monetarily.
Within SeniorAge, the entire distribution center is state funded, and all seniors age 60 and older can participate in the food-delivery program that receives the pre-packaged meals made in Seymour.
“It’s a neat thing that all of this is occurring in Seymour, with more than a million meals made last year and 660,000 meals made this year as of the present,” Price concluded.
“And that’s led to a win-win for both our seniors and for the people who work here.”
While in Seymour, Kehoe and Kelly talked during the lunch hour about how the Missouri Legislature and the state’s executive branch could offer additional assistance to SeniorAge and to the local meal program that is based in Seymour.
“What we’re seeing here is success,” Kehoe said. “It’s capitalism in its purest form, benefitting our seniors statewide who need healthy, tasty meals.”