Geneva Tower opens new dining room

Tom Brown and Kathryn O’Hair prepare plates of food for residents during lunch Thursday at the Geneva Tower apartment building in Cedar Rapids. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

A resident gets his hot lunch Thursday in a new dining room at the Geneva Tower apartment building in Cedar Rapids. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

February fire renews effort to rebuild community

CEDAR RAPIDS – A new eatery is serving up a lot of food to the community along with their hot fare at the Geneva Tower downtown.

The dining room for renters and members of the public opened July 12 as a partnership between Horizons, a subcontractor for the Heritage Area Agency on Aging, and the Affordable Housing Network of Iowa, which manages the property at 310 Fifth Ave. SE.

Three times a week, residents and others over the age of 60 are eligible for lunch with a suggested donation of $5. Others can join for a fee of $6.

The renewed effort, prompted by a February fire at the building for the elderly and disabled, is serving to rebuild a community that has faced more acute isolation since the pandemic began.

“We used to have a really good (community). Then we lost everything with the pandemic and other changes in the building,” said Donna Wullne, a Geneva Tower resident and volunteer who serves meals in the community room. “We are trying to rebuild it.”

If you go:

A grand opening for the new dining room. at the Geneva Tower, 310 Fifth Ave. SE in Cedar Rapids, will be held from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm on Tuesday.

Meals are served every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. in the social room. Seniors 60 and older are eligible for lunch with a suggested donation of $5. The cost for all others is $6.

To volunteer or donate to Horizons to make meal service possible, visit horizonsfamily.org or contact Melissa Wahl at (319) 375-3114.

The community room, an extension of the home for hundreds of residents in the tower, already had virtually everything needed to host meals. With a sink for washing dishes, a serving window, a refrigerator, and tables and chairs, the new site began serving meals with nominal start-up costs.

Horizons, which runs the local Meals on Wheels program, was able to secure the new service thanks to resident volunteers. About 40 Geneva Tower residents regularly sign up for meals, said Melissa Wahl, director of community health and nutrition for the nonprofit.

In an area of ​​the city some residents call a food desert, the need for hot meals is as great as ever. Geneva Tower residents live in efficient or one-bedroom apartments with kitchenettes, and many do not have their own vehicles. Many residents are single and, with few resources, have a much harder time getting to grocery stores located outside of the downtown district.

“Prices have skyrocketed again,” Wullne said. “Most of us get less than $30 a month in food stamps to buy food. Eating healthy is outrageous (expensive). Necessary.

With the capacity to eat approximately 50 people at a time, the new service offers a form of dignity to residents with what is sometimes their only hot meal of the day. An extension of Meals on Wheels, the soup kitchen helps seniors and disabled residents live independently in their homes longer with minimal expense.

Although the idea had been floated before, the fire at the revenue-based apartment building and the new leadership helped make it a reality.

“We saw the town gathering around the residents of the Geneva Tower. It was the perfect time to start the collaboration and offer that service,” said Danielle Rodríguez, director of the affordable housing network. “The fire just put more eyes on the community to see that this is their home, and not just a place.”

And with the chance to see each other longer than usual when going through the laundromat or the elevator, lunch here is more than just a means of sustenance.

“When you sit down at the table and break bread with someone, you discover that you have a lot in common,” said Pam Hotchkiss, a tenant relations specialist at the building since 1990. “I’m human, you’re human.”

Eventually, Horizons and the affordable housing network hope to expand meal service days and bring in speakers and entertainment.

Resident Elmer Manalili gets his hot lunch to go Thursday during the lunch rush at a new dining room in the Geneva Tower apartment building in Cedar Rapids. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

Tom Brown (center) and Kathryn O’Hair prepare plates of food for residents during lunch Thursday at the Geneva Tower apartment building in Cedar Rapids. (Geoff Stellfox/The Gazette)

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