The Seneca-Cayuga Nation has a long history of caring for its elders, propelled by rich cultural traditions that emphasize community. The Elder Nutrition Program, operated by the AOA (Agency on Aging), is a prime example.
The program is designed to provide nutritional meals to Tribal Members over the age of 52 at zero cost, Monday through Friday. This offer also extends to spouses of Tribal Members over the age of 52 and Native Americans from any federally recognized tribe that is at least 60 years old. And anyone who doesn’t meet that criteria can still grab a delicious meal for a small fee of five dollars.
At the heart of this endeavor is Rob Gibson, the Director of the AOA. Mr. Gibson is a one man show that cooks, cleans, and creates lasting impressions on his weekly patrons, many of which he considers friends. “I’m good friends with just about everyone that comes in here,” Mr. Gibson said during an interview. “I always make a point to ask them how they’re doing.”
Mr. Gibson’s journey with food began over 40 years ago at Oklahoma State, where he earned his culinary degree. He’s been churning out mouthwatering dishes ever since, with his current favorite for the AOA being chicken-fried steak. “My food is down-home food. It’s not institutional food. More like old diner food, that’s what I call it.”
A fan-favorite among patrons is the big Thanksgiving meal every year, which includes ham, turkey, and all the trimmings. The meal is so popular, in fact, that Mr. Gibson does it twice. “I’ll do it again in July,” he said. “Christmas in July. [Everyone] really likes that.”
When asked why he spends so much time and energy fulfilling his role at the AOA, Mr. Gibson said, “I think it’s a calling from God. Everybody has their gifts, and mine is service. There’s a lot of gratitude in it.”
Running the AOA does not come without it’s challenges however. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a number of hurdles for the AOA. Tribal Members are particularly susceptible to COVID and its variants. And their safety was, and continues to be, a top priority.
Mr. Gibson had to think fast and adapt. After the temporary shutdown in 2020, and again recently, he and other Tribal Leaders came up with a plan—a makeshift drive-thru using orange cones and ingenuity. “We ran the food out to them… We’d mark their name down, hand them their food, and send them on their way.”
Thankfully, the AOA has returned to indoor dining. And the Elder Nutritional Program can serve up more than just hot plates again. Many of the older patrons use the AOA as a social outlet too. The program doubles as a way to stay connected with friends or to make new ones. Being able to actually dine there is a big part of that.
In addition to the Elder Nutrition Program, there is a small library located just inside the AOA building. The hours for the library coincide with the hours of the AOA. Tribal members can check out books, audio book cd’s and Movies.
Moving forward, the current Tribal leadership plan on renovations, including replacing the carpets and installing fresh equipment like a walk-in freezer. The new freezer will allow the AOA to start providing Elders with frozen meals to take home, putting us one step closer to eliminating food insecurities.
In the meantime, Tribal leaders invite members of all ages to stop by the AOA. They envision a future where the Seneca-Cayuga Nation has even stronger community bonds that span generations. A future with full hearts and full stomachs. And it can start today—with you—and of course, some down-home food.
The AOA is open:
For lunch Monday – Thursday, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
For breakfast Fridays, 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
AOA Menus are posted weekly at www.facebook.com/OfficialSenecaCayugaNation and sctribe.com