COLUMBIA — Seven guitars, a harmonica and a string bass struck up country tunes at the annual Christmas dinner Friday at the Oakland Senior Center.
About 140 senior citizens filled the dining hall at the center on Old 63. As the band crooned familiar songs, diners talked with friends, listened to the music and enjoyed a buffet including roast beef, mashed potatoes and red velvet cupcakes.
Although the Christmas dinner draws more people and offers a festive atmosphere, many guests eat at the center year-round. Several diners said the reasonable price is an important reason they go to the center. The recommended donation is $3 for people 60 or older, and $6.50 for people younger than 60.
"You can't find a meal anywhere else at this price," said Mack Brushwood. Brushwood, 93, is a regular at the center and a member of the Silver Haired Legislature, a group of older citizens who recommend bills to the Missouri State Legislature every year.
"Rather than eating my own cooking, I come here to eat," Lester Poe, 80, said. Poe has been coming to the center five days a week for five or six years.
The center also offers people a place to socialize. Annie Thornton, 81, said going to the center "gets us out of the house." Thornton is president of the Oakland Senior Council and has participated at the center for at least a decade.
Lucille Edgar, 74, of Hallsville, started eating at the center when it was housed inside a bowling alley on Vandiver Drive. Her husband usually accompanies her, but couldn't Friday.
"It's nice to get to know all the people," she said. "It's a nice social center."
Verneal Nichols, 85, a retired teacher from Potosi, usually comes on Wednesdays to see her friend, Jack Lacy. Lacy, 85, plays guitar and sings in the band, which usually plays at the center on Wednesdays.
Sitting with Nichols were Lucille Edgar and Joyce Bradshaw. Bradshaw, 65, retired in 2007 after working for 32 years at University Hospital. She comes to see her husband, Jack Bradshaw, and his brother, Bob Bradshaw, perform.
The Oakland Senior Center serves lunch to guests five days a week and delivers meal packs to seniors who can't leave their homes, said Brenda Woods, the center's administrator. The center serves 100 to 125 meals a day on weekdays, and delivers 400 frozen meals each week, Wood said.
"We have the frailest of the frail, who are very low income," Woods said.
Home deliveries consist of seven frozen meals, a half gallon of milk and a loaf of wheat bread. The meals are provided by Signature Foods.
Oakland Senior Center is part of the Central Missouri Area Agencies on Aging, which receives federal, state, local and private funding.