Town Crier: April 14, 2011

by Clarke Davis

I’m sentimental about small town, homeowned cafes. It was Vi’s Cafe in Gray, Iowa, that provided me one of my first jobs deep-fat frying chicken for the mobs that crowded in after the ball games. When big agriculture forced my parents off the farm, a small cafe and hotel in western Kansas was their next vocation.

town crier Clarke DavisUpon arriving in Valley Falls, we had the choice of Arthur’s Cafe, the East Cafe, or Gragg’s Recreation for meals and coffee breaks. These places were the center of community life. Through these coffee breaks I learned the history of the town and came to know the people who used to operate the businesses and wield the power. They’d relate their stories about fighting a war, a drought, a tornado, and how things used to be.

Then they went away. The government got into the restaurant business. With the arrival of Meals on Wheels, kitchens sprung up in numerous small towns and took the vital trade away from a business that was always marginal.

I never begrudged a free or reduced meal for the town’s seniors, but I never could understand why the government program didn’t use the kitchens that were already operating by subsidizing them in some way.

Now, all these years later, those towns fortunate enough to still have a cafe might see these customers return. The Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging has conducted a pilot project through a cafe in Oskaloosa and by all accounts it is a large success. More people are served and monetarily the books appear to balance.

The early success was questionable because there were too many customers and not enough donations. The program will feed a senior citizen free of charge but in order for the program to work for everyone, donations of $2.50 or more are required. Once people understood that, the money flowed and the program is financially stable.

The program works through a plastic card issued by JAAA to the senior citizen, who can also donate by credit card at that time. The cafe has a special terminal, similar to a credit card machine, that reads cards belonging to seniors and they get their meal.

We went through some periods here and around the county where there was no restaurant in many towns. Those are not good days. I remember when this printing plant put in coffee pots because there was no place to take a coffee break and over the years the tradition of a coffee break just seemed to disappear.

I hope the powers who be have studied this long enough to be convinced that the pilot project worked and it’s time to act. Encourage these people to once again use local cafes for their nourishment, to spin yarns, and enrich the community.

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