Sierra Senior Services sees growth after 15 years of helping older residents | SierraSun.com

Sierra Senior Services sees growth after 15 years of helping older residents

TRUCKEE, Calif. — They've covered about 728,000 miles of roadway in and around Truckee.

They've delivered roughly 376,195 meals to more than 4,000 homebound senior citizens.

They've made an immeasurable impact.

For the past 15 years, Sierra Senior Services has been feeding and supporting at-risk individuals 60 years of age or older in the Truckee-North Lake Tahoe region.

With that in mind, the nonprofit is celebrating its longstanding commitment to local seniors by holding a 15th anniversary celebration on May 18 at the Truckee-Tahoe Airport.

"Our theme is celebrate aging," said Mary Anderson, a director of the agency. "Because it's our community, our commitment, and our seniors. And it isn't just about that segment of the population, but it's about an entire community coming together in support of aging."

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The support is fueled by the agency's Meals on Wheels program, which provides daily nutritious meals to seniors who are unable to shop or prepare their own food.

Monday through Friday, hot meals are prepared — everything from fish tacos to meatloaf — and delivered to homebound seniors. Additionally, meals are served inside the Sierra Senior Services facility at noon.

"It's an important program," said Sarah Deardorff, executive director of Sierra Senior Services. "We really are enabling these people to come home from the hospital, to continue to heal after a procedure, or because they're just in a frail state — helping them be able to live longer in their homes."

'I ENJOY THEM VERY MUCH'

Along with supplying homebound seniors with food, the Meals on Wheels program's volunteer drivers — many of whom are seniors themselves, Deardorff said — provide wellness checks on the individuals they're serving.

"That's probably one of the hugest strengths," Anderson said. "Not only good nutrition, but also having that daily wellness check. Because, really, for the seniors it's important and kind of reassuring for them, and also for the family members who live a distance away."

Last year alone, the Meals on Wheels volunteers delivered more than 38,000 nutritious meals to homebound seniors living within 862 square miles — a radius that includes Truckee, Incline Village, and Tahoe's north and west shores.

For Truckee resident Verna Walls, the program is comfort food in more ways than one.

"Without them, I wouldn't have a nice hot meal at lunch," said Walls, adding that the meatloaf is her favorite dish. "I appreciate them very much. They (volunteers) are wonderful girls. They don't make you feel like you're poor or needy or anything. They're just so cheerful, and even take the time to sit down and ask me how I am. I enjoy them very much."

A GROWING CHALLENGE

Epitomizing the program's growth, when Deardorff took over as ED in 2008, the agency was serving roughly 16,000 meals per year.

"Right now, 20 percent of our population is considered to be a senior over the age of 60," Deardorff said. "Not all of them need our services, but we are seeing a growth average of 5 percent per year … we're growing at an incredible rate. Nationally, it's about 7 percent a year."

In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in a few years, more than 77 million people in America will be over the age of 60, and more than 34 million people — primarily family and friends — will be supporting a loved one who is over 60.

Meaning, as the nation sees a continuous uptick in people over 60 years old, agencies like Sierra Senior Services are more vital than ever.

"Old age is not something people really like to focus on," Anderson said. "We're really lucky we have some very good local foundation support here."

This isn't to say Sierra Senior Services — funded by donations and fundraisers (36 percent) and the federal and county governments (39 percent), among other sources — doesn't face its share of challenges as it strives to provide for the aging community.

"As the need continues to increase the program that I'm working with, the (food) prices continue to raise," Deardorff said. "I still have to pay my staff and pay for food. And my costs for food have not gone down — and they don't."

This is why Deardorff is grateful for her stable of volunteers who shuttle meals to homebound seniors every day. In all, more than 150 volunteers donate time to equal approximately $140,000 a year.

THE NEXT 15 YEARS

So what does Deardorff envision for the next 15 years?

Quite simply, "our very own home destination," she said. The agency currently operates out of a low-income housing facility for seniors on Estates Drive in Truckee.

"I'd love to have a center for Sierra Senior Services," Deardorff said. "And I welcome other members of the community to be apart of this dream, too.

"We're very deficient on housing for seniors. It'd be nice to have a place where people can meet and feel welcome and have the opportunity to socialize and collaborate and be part of a bigger social network — I think isolation is huge for seniors, especially in rural communities."

Above all, Deardorff said she wants the program to "continue to grow."

"I really want to be able to continue serving people as they need our service," she said. "That so far has been what's unusual for our program — many places people have to go on a wait list, so somebody has to literally die before you can get put onto the program.

"It's really important for me that when someone calls, I put them on the program that next day."

If you go

What: Sierra Senior Services 15th anniversary celebration

When: 4-6 p.m. Wednesday, May 18

Where: Truckee-Tahoe Airport

Cost: Free

Online: sierraseniors.org

To RSVP call Sierra Senior Services at 530-550-7600