By SCOTT PESZNECKER
To the aroma of lasagna and steamed vegetables, the once-stripped kitchen at the Calaveras Senior Center was pronounced reborn yesterday.
About 50 seniors came to the San Andreas center for lunch yesterday to dedicate the refurbished kitchen. The new equipment including a dishwasher, refrigerator, oven, fryer, steamer and other supplies was paid for by donations from Senior Center patrons and local businesses.
In a speech before lunch, Senior Center Board President Ken McInturf announced the kitchen will be called "The Phoenix Kitchen, from the legendary bird that came back from the ashes.
"That's basically what we've done."
The seniors were just as pleased to have a full kitchen and to be eating lunch together.
"The people are very nice, so nice," said San Andreas resident Dolores Hope, 74. "They should have something like this for seniors."
"The food has never been better," said Valley Springs resident Irene Whitaker, 62.
Perhaps the person most thrilled yesterday was Senior Center Coordinator Rob Chabot.
Taking a break from helping out in the kitchen and giving birthday ribbons to two seniors, Chabot reflected on the center's success.
He stood in the front corner of the room and pointed out over all the seniors.
"I love it," he said. "I see people talking, I see smiles on their faces and they get to eat as much as they want, and there's no hurry."
The Senior Center was left without a working kitchen in February, when the Area 12 Agency on Aging removed its nutrition programs and kitchen equipment because it had run up a $43,000 deficit trying to provide senior meals in Calaveras County between July 2002 and March.
Calaveras County supervisors have refused the agency's request to pay down the deficit, saying they first want to audit Area 12's books.