At least 30 residents at the Vienna Nursing and Rehabilitation Center got up early Thursday morning to prepare a lunch to serve to the 40 people involved with he Women Helping Women group at the Salvation Army.

Residents at the facility gathered in the dining hall and eagerly chopped vegetables and meats for chef salads. Other residents prepared rolls and baked cookies to go with the meal.

“I’m doing an important thing — people need to be fed,” 93-year-old Shirley Graese said as she stuck wedges of butter in the rolls.

“They need good, healthy food. We have it here and they are getting ready to put it on the plate. It’s really a privilege and helpful and we like it. As long as we’re going to be here, we might as well be productive if we can do it.”

Lillian Granger, 93, who also prepared rolls, said she has been helping people all her life, so this was nothing new.

Gwen Showalter, 74, cut up chunks of turkey to go in the chef’s salads. She said she was glad that she was given this opportunity because she enjoys helping people.

Jonathan Ibarra said in the past he has worked with the Salvation Army and it’s nice to help some of the people he met in the past.

Shirley Klinker, 86, prepared the cookies for dessert. With six children, she describes herself as sort of a pro at baking cookies.

“I baked a lot of cookies. Chocolate chip was their favorite and they would tolerate oatmeal,” she said.

After the food was prepped and ready to go, seven residents were chosen to go serve the meal at the Salvation Army. Transportation was provided by the city’s Dial A Ride program.

According to Jamie Vilinskas, Vienna’s marketing director, in an effort to give back to the community the center started the Serving Smiles program. Once a month the residents prepare and serve a meal to the Women Helping Women group at the Salvation Army.

“We’ve been trying to find something where the residents can give back to the community and have a role and a responsibility,” Vilinskas said.

She said they were inspired by a documentary about a similar program called Heart to Serve and decided to start their own program.

“You might have tremors, you might not be able to use one arm, you might have dementia or something, but if your heart still wants to give back, you should still be able to have that opportunity to give back,” Vilinskas said.

According to Vilinskas, many residents at Vienna have been caring for others and feeding people most of their lives. The program gives residents a chance to reconnect with their former identity of being a provider and caregiver, and really makes a difference in the lives of others.

Families of Salvation Army benefit not only with the meals, but Vilinskas said it also provides them an opportunity to connect with seniors in the community and share genuine, intimate moments of bonding.

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