FARGO — Starting Tuesday, June 1, the 34 meal sites for senior citizens operated by Valley Senior Services will be open again after more than a year of being closed due to the pandemic.

Director Brian Arett said the meal sites closed March 18, 2020 and he clearly remembers the sad day.

He said "a lot of" eligible senior citizens who are 60 years of age or older and their spouses have been asking about when the sites, which include 10 in Fargo and three in West Fargo, can reopen.

"We're excited about opening up again," Arett said. "It's been a real challenge this year and as far as mental health goes and this provides an opportunity for seniors to connect again with their neighbors and friends."

"It's another outlet for them as we try to return to some type of normalcy," Arett continued. "We're really happy they can get back together again."

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Arett said the number of meals being served are up about 15%, with about 700 lunches served daily in Fargo, 200 in West Fargo and 600 in the other five counties served by the agency that is connected with the Fargo Park District. The other counties, which mostly have their own cooks at their sites as does West Fargo, are located in Traill, Steele, Richland, Ransom and Sargent counties.

Concordia College prepares the Fargo meals, which also includes those served through the Meals On Wheels program.

Since the shutdown of the sites, the agency quickly moved to begin offering home-delivered and take-out meals to seniors.

With the number of prepared meals increasing, Arett said federal stimulus aid has helped to pay the extra costs but he believes they have the resources to continue to fund the growing need.