Down East Carteret County used to be an active fishing community, bustling with life and neighbors who were more like family.
However, as time passed, the area has become quiet, with fewer activities and meeting places for those who remained. Many who live in the Down East communities are senior citizens who don’t want to be forgotten.
Luckily, a dedicated group of volunteers has started and maintained the Down East Senior Lunches, where seniors can gather with friends and receive a hot meal.
The lunches are every Thursday afternoon at the Atlantic Scout Hut. They are open to anyone who wants to come enjoy fellowship and a hot meal.
“It’s a good cause,” volunteer Penny Smith said. “I’ve done a lot of things over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever volunteered or done anything as rewarding as the senior luncheon.”
Ms. Smith said two women started the program around 20 years ago.
In the beginning, there was money coming in from Duke Endowment funds. However, over the years the lunches have become funded completely through volunteer efforts and those at Atlantic United Methodist Church.
“It’s been very good, self-supporting. We have done well,” Ms. Smith said. “People know we are totally nonprofit. We are all volunteer work. We have an annual fundraiser in the fall to raise money for operations.
“We do a ham dinner and offer delivery (during the fundraiser). We’ve learned over the years that they will buy a ticket, they may not come, but they will take a meal,” she continued.
Each week, different volunteer teams come to the Scout Hut to cook whatever meal they feel like serving that day. The team then goes grocery shopping and cooks a large meal for the hungry crowd.
The menu of choice for Feb. 27 was chicken and rice, green beans, mandarin oranges and bread. The crowd was also treated to a salad bar, which is a staple of the senior lunches, and aa array of appetizing desserts.
Ms. Smith and her team started cooking around 8 a.m. and the kitchen filled with the savory smells of the cooking chicken and baked bread. She said as the dynamic of Down East changes over the years, the seniors look forward to meeting with their friends during the lunches.
“When you get down to it, there is nothing in the far Down East area,” she said. “As far as restaurants are concerned, there is nothing. There isn’t a grocery store either. It’s (the senior lunches) a spot where people can come together and hear what’s going on, to chit and chat and talk about what’s going on.”
As the crowd slowly filled the center, the feeling of community and friendship was evident.
“How are you doing today? Have you been to town lately?” people would ask as they saw their friends walk through the door.
Some in attendance, like Earl and Janice Fulcher of Davis, have been coming to the lunch since its inception.
The regulars have their own way of doing things during the lunches. There are no official assigned seats, but everyone knows exactly where to sit.
“We’ve been doing it umpteen many years,” Ms. Fulcher said. “I was cooking and other things. Then I aged out of it.”
Ms. Fulcher said she and her husband come to the lunches for the camaraderie.
“Earl would say every Thursday morning when he wakes up, ‘We are going home today,’” Ms. Fulcher said. “This is home for both of us.”
Laura Hill of Atlantic said she comes not for the food, but to spend time with her friends.
“We have so little chances to see people,” she said. “We see people at church, but there’s really little other choice.”
Veda Styron, Ms. Smith’s mother, is another resident who has been coming frequently since the luncheon’s inception.
“I was here when it first started,” she said. “We live in Cedar Island, and I remember I would come here and peel potatoes and that kind of stuff. The men would go outside and cook.”
Ms. Styron doesn’t help out as much now, but she still enjoys the fellowship.
“Now I come and do little things here and there,” she said. “I enjoy being with the crowd. They are people I’ve known my whole life.”
The luncheon is also open to those who consider themselves “transplants,” like Barney Collins and Jackie Riggsbee.
“We live in Pittsboro, but have a home in Sea Level,” Mr. Collins said. “We are here about half the time.”
The couple heard about the senior lunches from Ms. Smith and thought it would be a good way to get themselves immersed in the community.
“It’s a fun place to come and make friends,” Ms. Riggsbee said.
Mr. Collins agreed.
“I like to come because all of the people are entertaining,” he said. “They have a ball. I am 83, but I don’t feel 83 when I am here.”