If all goes according to plan, North Laurel and Savage senior citizens will be eating and socializing together at a county-run nutrition site in their community within a year.
Yesterday, the County Council approved County Executive Charles I. Ecker's $82 million 1994 capital budget, which includes money for a nutrition site in the southeastern part of the county.
County Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, said the money was originally part of the 1995 capital budget, but Mr. Ecker moved the project up a year at her request.
The $411,000 will be used to design and build the facility at the Southeastern Multi-Service Center in Savage, which houses the Savage library and a county Health Department clinic.
"The sooner we can get it built, the sooner we can get elderly people in to have a meal and some companionship," Ms. Pendergrass said.
"These programs let elderly people remain a part of the community and put off going to a nursing home or moving in with their kids," she said.
Ms. Pendergrass said she hopes the nutrition center can be completed within a year.
The county's large senior population was a factor in the move to build the nutrition site a year earlier than planned.
Howard County has the fastest growing elderly population in the state, said Duane St. Clair, the Office on Aging's assistant administrator for community services.
There are 19,232 county residents age 60 and over and 12,877 over age 65. The county's elderly population in the year 2000 is projected at 25,675, with 16,976 over age 65, Mr. St. Clair said.
"A lot of people who moved here early in the development of Columbia are now starting to reach 60 and that will continue through the beginning of the next century," Mr. St. Clair said.
There are nine nutrition sites in the county serving about 250 seniors, said Starr Sowers, who directs nutrition sites for the county's Office on Aging. The 10th site, at the East Columbia library, is scheduled to open next spring.
In addition to providing seniors with a hot lunch, all the nutrition sites offer social, educational and recreational activities.
"The meals are very important, but we look at the nutrition programs as having many facets," Ms. Sowers said.
Many seniors go to the nutrition sites for their main meal of the day, while others go for companionship.
The sites also link seniors with appropriate support services.
"They might need food stamps or referrals to doctors," Ms. Sowers said. "Because a person comes regularly to a nutrition site, our managers are able to tune in to the needs of the participants."