A group of about 20 people, mostly senior citizens, gathered for two hours last Saturday at the Cheatham County Courthouse to protest the removal of the Meals on Wheels program from the Senior Center at Ashland City last year.

Ashland City residents Kay Meek, Arion Cole and Ruby Johns organized the protest after multiple attempts failed to get the meal program reinstated at the Senior Center, where it had been available for the last 40 years.

The protesters carried signs that said, “Truth is out there,” and “Senior Center needs Meals on Wheals (sic). They belong together. Senior Center for all.” A petition was available with the signers requesting that the city bring the program back to the Senior Center.

Meals on Wheels was discontinued at the Senior Center in March of 2020 when the center closed due to COVID-19. After the center reopened, the Meals on Wheels program moved to Faith Church of the Nazarene on Ed Harris Road in Ashland City.

The decision to terminate the program at the Senior Center was made by then-center director Melissa Womack (who retired in June) and Ashland City Mayor Steve Allen, the mayor said.

The protest organizers expressed concern about the decision because they claim they were not asked for their input, the decision was not voted on by the Ashland City Council, and that the church doesn’t have seating for the meals. The Senior Center had space for people to sit together and socialize while they ate.

“We’re upset that it was removed from the Senior Center. There’s no socializing at the church. It’s not the church’s fault. Some of our friends and seniors have died, and had the program not been moved, they could’ve seen some of their friends. Seniors are suffering the effects from isolation. They’re not getting any socialization,” Meek said.

Cole, Johns, and Meek all said the reasons that Womack gave them for discontinuing the program was because Meals on Wheels kept the kitchen at the Senior Center dirty and that the room where the seniors ate was used for other activities, causing frequent setup and moving of tables and chairs.

Womack could not be reached for comment.

Cole, Meek and Johns all said they never saw cleanliness issues while eating at the Senior Center there and that they saw participants and volunteers regularly helping to re-arrange the room after meals.

Allen confirmed that the Meals on Wheels removal from the Senior Center was not voted on by the city council and the decision was made by Womack and him. He said it was due to the cleanliness issues in the kitchen and time constraints with the room being used for other activities.

“Meals on Wheels is a great program, but we have so many activities with other seniors, there’s just a conflict of time. Now they operate out of the Nazarene Church, and that’s better for the seniors and better for them, too,” he said.

The protest organizers said they attended virtual city council meetings to address their concerns and to present a previous petition to have Meals on Wheels moved back to the Senior Center, but nothing was done.

Allen said he did receive the original petition organized by Cole, Johns and Meek, but he said he does not remember it being brought up at a city council meeting. The mayor also said the issue wouldn’t be voted on by the city council because Meals on Wheels isn’t a city-funded or city-run program.

The Meals on Wheels program is run by Mid-Cumberland Human Resource Agency. According to Ashland City Finance Director Gayle Bowman, the town did approve a donation of $8,000 to Mid-Cumberland for the current fiscal year.

The Senior Center has created a meal service area called Kathy’s Kitchen to serve meals to Senior Center members. The area was scheduled to open last month but was postponed.

The lunch meals will be available for $5. Lunch will be served Mondays and Wednesdays at 11 a.m. According to Senior Center Activities Coordinator Kathy Nicholson, there will be a limit of 25 meals to al- low for social distancing.

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