Plainville Sr Center Cooks

Jimmy Basque, left, president of the Friends of Plainville Seniors, stands alongside Dean Swift, a longtime volunteer cook at the town senior center who has had a falling out with the center’s director.

PLAINVILLE — Dean Swift has been a popular volunteer cook for years at the town senior center, whipping up weekly breakfasts and lunches for dozens of seniors.

But Swift, 85, hung up his utensils last Wednesday, saying he’s been pushed out by the center’s administration.

“They never gave us an answer,” the town resident said. “We told everybody it’s the end, no more cooking.”

Christine Higgins, director of the senior center/Council on Aging, acknowledged making the decision, but paints a different story.

The director said the decision centered on pandemic-related procedures that Swift declined to follow.

“We wanted to limit capacity. We want to keep people safe. We’re a small center.” Higgins said, adding Swift also didn’t want to wear a mask or gloves. “He just didn’t want to comply with the new guidelines.”

Swift refutes those reasons, saying he was willing to follow COVID procedures, and noted health regulations require him to wear gloves.

“Nobody ever said anything about masks,” Swift said. “That wouldn’t have been a problem.”

For at least eight years, Swift has cooked Tuesday morning breakfasts and Friday lunches that ended up being outdoor cookouts in pleasant weather.

Since the senior center reopened after being shut down because of the pandemic, Swift has overseen the cookouts this summer, which had been moved to Wednesdays and involved other volunteers.

Among those is longtime volunteer cook Jim Basque, president of the Friends of Plainville Seniors.

The lunches and breakfasts brought in about $10,000 each year for the Friends group, money used to help seniors in need, Swift pointed out. Additional funds raised from the meals bought kitchen equipment, he added.

With the weather turning, Swift said he wanted to return to cooking inside but was told he couldn’t.

“They wouldn’t let me go inside. We were told we can’t go in the kitchen,” Swift said.

Again, Higgins cited COVID procedures.

“If we came inside, we wanted to be careful how many come in,” she said. “We told him we weren’t doing breakfast or lunch right now.”

Craig Beaver and his wife Gail have visited the senior center for Swift’s cooking for about four years.

“A lot of seniors looked forward to his lunches,” he said. “He’s a fabulous cook, a wonderful man.”

It isn’t just Plainville seniors who attend the center. The Beavers are from Wrentham.

“There are people from Mansfield, Foxboro,” he said.

“We thought it’s an injustice and they should reconsider their decision,” Beaver said. “A lot of people expressed disappointment.”

He said he used to enjoy Swift’s food at restaurants he cooked at: the Joe Street 20 in Plainville, which Swift owned, and Quaker Hill in Foxboro, where he worked.

“His meals are fantastic, the food out of this world,” Beaver said. “I told Dean if he goes somewhere else, tell me and I’ll go.”

Meanwhile, the senior center’s daily lunches continue, made up off-site and delivered by a vendor, as they have for years.

“We serve lunches here every day,” Higgins said.

The center is also planning its annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners that Swift had cooked up and could have continued if he wanted to, the director said.

Others will be cooking those meals.

“He told us he was no longer cooking for us,” Higgins said. “He never came to us to talk about it.”

Swift said he told Higgins “if I can’t go in on a weekly basis, I won’t do the holiday dinners.”

The center director said she has received positive feedback, including at least one letter from a senior indicating they were glad administrators were trying to keep everyone safe from COVID.

“I feel bad but I have to protect all seniors,” Higgins said of Swift leaving.

Swift said, “We’d love to go back.”

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