The Vernonia Senior Center offers all kinds of services and programs for seniors, from help with meals, heath care assistance, exercise classes, entertainment and more. It’s a place for senior citizens to gather with their friends, get answers to questions, and hear about what’s happening around town.
But the Vernonia Senior Center isn’t just for senior citizens. And some recent changes are emphasizing that even more.
Lila Harrison is the new manager of the Senior Center Thrift Store and Sheila Kruger is the new cook in the kitchen. Both ladies have made some positive changes and are hoping to attract more customers who will utilize the services the Senior Center provides and that are available to the entire community.
“I think sometimes people are inhibited to come in here because they think it’s just for old people,” said Harrison during a recent visit to the Senior Center. “And it is for older people. But it’s also here for everyone in the community to use. It can be a really great resource for people. I would like to see people get in the habit of coming down and know what is going on here.”
One good thing about shopping or eating at the Senior Center is that the money you spend there helps support senior center activities. Your support helps pay the utilities and keep the doors open.
One big change that Harrison has made is opening the Thrift Store on Saturday’s so customers can now shop as well as drop off donations during the weekend. “That is really important as a link to a lot of people,” says Harrison.
Harrison took over as the volunteer manager of the thrift store just over a month ago and has been trying to do more outreach into the community. “A lot of people I’ve talked to didn’t even know the Thrift Store was here,” says Harrison. She also says she is bumping up against some preconceived ideas about what the Thrift Store is. “We have almost no teenagers that ever come in,” says Harrison. Her hope is to expand the store’s clientele. “I want this to be a place that feels happy and relaxed,” she says. “A place where people can feel comfortable and creative.”
Harrison has enjoyed using her own creativity to display items in the store in a more imaginative way. She says she sometimes takes home broken items and fixes them or dresses up items, bringing them back for sale cleaned up or with a new coat of paint. “I’m a huge fan of Pintrest and I like to set things up so people can see the possibilities.”
For the six volunteers who help out in the store, Harrison has allowed them to be innovative as well, encouraging them to share their ideas, move items around, use their organizational or other talents, and have fun. “I want them to feel like they can come in and really contribute,” says Harrison. “We have a great bunch of volunteers who are dedicated, resourceful and hard working.”
Another change Harrison says she is considering is some kind of outdoor market in the summer time. She already has a Facebook page where she is posting items that are for sale, as well as other information about activities at the Senior Center. She also says they are red marking items after a month; those items are 50% off. “It’s kind of like a treasure hunt,” says Harrison.
Harrison is a big proponent of donating and reusing items. “For me, it’s the most exciting part of thrift stores,” she says about seeing items reused. “And donating to the Senior Center is like banking at Wauna Credit Union-it goes back to the community. Not only is it funding the seniors, but my goal is to get more people using this store, so we can keep the prices really low. I want people to think of it as a resource, especially when they are struggling. It’s a way for families to make ends meet.”
The Thrift Store is open from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM Monday through Friday and 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM on Saturdays. Harrison says to call her if you have donations after hours and she will come open the door for you; you can reach her at 503-429-8425.
New cook Kruger has taken the long route to arrive in Vernonia. Born in England, she has lived in California, Arizona, Seattle and Rainier. She has worked in catering and most recently was honing her skills for three years as the cook at the Rainier Senior Center. She has lived in Vernonia for the last three years.
Kruger likes to cook from scratch and tries to stay away from canned and processed ingredients. She says her specialties are her sauces and desserts and that she tries to make a homemade dessert, like rice pudding, bread pudding or fresh fruit crisps and crumbles, three or four times a week.
For Kruger, it’s all about comfort food – rib sticking food that will warm and fill you up. The day we visited she was cooking up some biscuits and gravy; homemade hamburger gravy and fresh baked biscuits. Her biscuits were flaky, buttery, salty, and delicious!
Kruger is encouraging the general public to stop by for lunch and try her down-home cooking. The cost for a meal is just five dollars; if you’re over sixty it’s a suggested donation of four dollars, but no seniors are turned away. “If you want, you can come in and get a home cooked, hot meal,” says Kruger. “We want people to know that this isn’t just for seniors; this is here for everyone in the community.”
Kruger says some of her other crowd favorites are lasagna, roast chicken, pot roast and meat loaf. Kruger says she can whip up a burger, grilled cheese or egg salad if what’s on the menu isn’t to your liking. Wednesday’s are usually a meat and potatoes dish. Lunch is served at noon and are also available to-go. If you don’t feel like cooking after work Kruger will make you up a dinner you can pick up in the afternoon and take home.
She also makes maple bars every day and hopes to add scones and muffins. Kruger says to call ahead to order a quantity of maple bars for your next event, they are a dollar each or a dozen for ten dollars.
As you can see, there is a lot happening at the Vernonia Senior Center that just about anyone can enjoy. And any money you spend goes towards a good cause.