Hurt by economy, senior center struggles to keep meal programs

Published on Thu, Jul 3, 2008 by Coral Garnick

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Hurt by economy, senior center struggles to keep meal programs

By Coral Garnick

As gas prices continue to increase, the federally subsidized nutrition program offering hot lunches to seniors throughout Whatcom County has been forced to make modifications and may shut down in some areas.

This year the average cost to prepare one meal at the senior centers has increased from $5 to $5.50 because of the higher gas prices, and the number of seniors that attend the daily lunches at the Blaine Senior Center has dropped from 50 to 40, sometimes falling as far as 30, in large part because they can’t afford to drive to town, said Barbara Fischer, Whatcom County parks department senior services coordinator at the Blaine Senior Center.

The center, along with seven other sites in the county, offers a hot, homemade lunch to seniors ages 60 and older to help them get the nutrition they need to stay out of nursing homes and be self sufficient.

Seniors that are homebound can also request a hot or frozen meal be delivered to their home through the Meals on Wheels program.

“If seniors have a home and we can provide them with some food and nourishment, then maybe they can stay in their home longer,” Fischer said. “People need to realize that in the long run we are helping each other if we help seniors stay out of nursing homes because they are paid for with tax dollars.”

The nutrition program is managed by the Whatcom County Council on Aging, and receives its funding from three sources: the $3 to $5.50 suggested donation for the meal, fundraisers and government funding, Fischer said.

Diners donate an average of $2.25 per meal, but with the increased cost to prepare each meal, more funds are needed.

“We are not looking to make people give more out of their own pockets because they can't, “ Fischer said. “We are looking for additional funding to offset it.”

Whatcom County Council on Aging receives an average of $125,000 each year through fundraisers, but with this year’s higher expenses they need to raise an additional $65,000, nutrition director Pam Relay said.
So far Relay has had to reduce the number of food deliveries to sites from once a week to twice a month, as well as substitute chicken for beef because it is less expensive, but still high in protein.

Modifications such as consolidating sites to cut down on staff, making a waiting list for Meals on Wheels and, as a last resort, reducing the number of days lunch is served or possibly shutting down some sites all together will have to be made to the program if additional funds are not raised.

“If it ever came down to getting shut down I think there would be an outcry form the community and it would be revived, but it takes donations; it takes people realizing that this is important; it takes people realizing that it is a priority and a necessity,” Fischer said.

Whatcom County Council on Aging can be reached by calling 360/733-4030. Their website is www.co.whatcom.wa.us/parks/seniors. The Blaine Senior Center is located at 763 G St. and can be reached by calling 360/332-8040.