Congregate meal sites for senior citizens in Gloverville and Jackson are facing uncertain futures, because they don’t attract enough participants from their small communities.


A 90-day waiver has allowed the sites to keep operating since the first of July, but time will run out in late September.


“I hate to say it, but there is definitely the possibility that we will be required to close them if the numbers don’t increase,” said Scott Murphy, who is the executive director of the Aiken Area Council on Aging, which operates those sites and two others in Aiken and Wagener.


The state, through the Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging, requires each congregate meal site to attract at least 25 participants each day it is open in order to keep its funding.


The Gloverville site, located at Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Center, on Augusta Road, serves food to an average of “about 21” clients per day, and the Jackson site, located at the Roland Smith Senior Center on Charleston Street, serves “about 18,” according to Murphy.


“We are supposed to be trying to help all seniors throughout Aiken County,” he said. “To expect a town the size of Jackson to have the numbers that a city like Aiken does is unrealistic.”


But the Council on Aging isn’t giving up. The organization has taken steps to get more elderly people involved in the Jackson and Gloverville programs.


“We’re trying to recruit additional clientele through word of mouth,” Murphy said. “We’re also encouraging the existing clients to come more days during the week. Some just come Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and some just come on Tuesday and Thursday. We’re also contacting churches.”


In Jackson, “Mayor Todd Etheredge has always been a big advocate of the senior center facility there,” Murphy said. “They’re committed to taking out a wall in a part of their building that used to serve as a food pantry to make more room, They also are looking at starting to offer afternoon activities (after 1 p.m.) to draw in more clients.”


Last Tuesday, 27 seniors showed up at the Gloverville site. The following day, there were only 20.


“We’ve gotten four new clients this week,” said the site’s manager, Jessie Beard.


But illness and doctor appointments make it difficult to keep attendance consistently at, or above, 25. Death and admissions to nursing homes also are constant threats to take away participants.


All of the Council on Aging’s congregate meal sites are open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. They serve hot lunches that offer meat and vegetables. They also offer a variety of activities, such as Bible study, walking and bingo. Sometimes there are guest speakers.


At the Gloverville site, Beard will call clients when they don’t show up to make sure they are OK.


“I have someone who comes in once a month to take blood pressures,” Beard said.


Virginia Morrison, 78, is one of the Gloverville site’s most enthusiastic clients, and she worries about what is going to happen.


“The possibility that they might shut us down just breaks my heart,” said the Warrenville resident. “We’re like a family here. We sing and exercise and play games. It’s something that makes me get up, get dressed and get out of the house in the morning. Without it, I probably would be sitting in a room by myself.”


To Murphy, it is important to keep the meal sites, like those in Gloverville and Jackson, open even though the number of clients served is fewer than in some other areas.


“It’s about quality of life, dignity, independence and being able to age in place in their communities for those seniors,” he said. “They can stay and be around their friends and neighbors. That’s a huge deal, a very huge deal.”


Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.