CARTHAGE, Mo. — For those who frequently visit the Carthage Senior Center, they’ll never notice a difference. For the workers who prepare nearly 200 meals daily for Carthage area seniors, it’s an absolute game changer.

Back in May, officials with the Carthage Community Foundation donated $10,000 in grant money to the Area Agency on Aging Region X. That money was promptly turned about and used to replace aging equipment inside the Carthage senior center’s kitchen.

Before the donation was officially announced, however, CCF officials first had a little fun, said Beth Brooks, manager of the senior center.

“Jennifer Shotwell (AAA’s chief executive officer) put in the application with the Carthage Community Foundation,” Brooks said. “They called her and told her that we were a finalist (for the grant). What actually happened was that they had already chosen us for the $10,000 grant. But they didn’t tell her that. Rather, they told her that they wanted to come out to see our old equipment.”

When CCF officials walked into the center, located at 404 E. Third St., they no longer could contain under their hats the good news.

“Oh yes,” Brooks said with a chuckle, “it was a big surprise. We were very happy.”

On June 20, Joe Harding Foodservice Equipment delivered, assembled the new equipment to the center, in some cases replacing equipment that was 20 years and older.

“We are honored to have had our project chosen for funding by the Carthage Community Foundation. By partnering with Joe Harding, we have been able to ensure our staff has the reliable equipment they need to continue to serve meals in our Carthage center,” Shotwell said.

The new items included a reach-in freezer, a hot- and cold-food serving counters, a proofer as well as industrial can openers, Brooks said. Best of all, the kitchen didn’t miss a beat when it came to prepping hot meals for area seniors.

The Carthage center’s kitchen averages 85 Meals on Wheels delivered each day and around 60 meals served hot to paying customers. With totals combined from area centers in Jasper, Newton Barton and McDonald Counties, 7,103 served meals and 23,340 Meals on Wheels are delivered each month; annually, that comes out to about 84,154 and 280,063, respectively.

Brooks said replacing the aging equipment was an absolute necessity.

“We had things breaking down,” which added time and expenses to meal prep deadlines, she said. When that happened, kitchen workers Dixie Clayton, Nina Maggard and Jodi Smith “had to work (their) way around it. If something isn’t working perfect, we can’t use it, especially if it’s not going to bring us food to the right temperature.”

It was a real honor to receive the money, she continued.

“It’s fantastic to be able to get what we got,” Brooks said. “That is what we needed.”