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Lunch program to end for seniors

AMANDA BUTLER. Sierra Sun

In between talk of weather, health and family, seniors at the Truckee Senior Center Tuesday talked about the news just given to them by administrators of the Serve Our Seniors program: their hot lunches will end on April 6.

“It is really a shame,” said Jim Alford, who eats lunch at the center almost every day. “A lot of us can’t cook, so losing the lunch program means we won’t have anyplace to go and eat.”

The Senior Nutrition Program provides a hot, affordable meal to seniors throughout Truckee and the North Shore. The program is currently sponsored by Serve Our Seniors, Inc. (SOS) a company based out of Orangevale, Calif.

“Despite efforts to raise local dollars, we have not been able to gain enough support from either the community or the seniors to offset a potential $10,000 shortfall,” said Joan Barry, CEO of SOS. “I think folks thought we were kidding when we asked the seniors to provide contributions for the meals… When the resources are not there, the lunch has to stop.”

Barry says the the response from the community and the seniors has not been sufficient to pay for the increasing cost of meals, which is currently $7 per meal.

Funding from the Area 4 Agency on Aging, a federal agency that sponsors programs like these for the elderly, provides $4 to SOS for meals and an additional 58 cents per meal is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The average meal donations from seniors is $1.20 per meal, leaving a shortfall of $1.25 a meal.

Barry says the $10,000 a year difference is not one the program can bear alone.

Local senior and resident Irene Swinning can’t believe the cost of the meals is $7.

“If you’ve ever seen one of those meals, I just can’t imagine that they are costing that much to make,” said Swinning. “You get a small portion of meat, some vegetables and a small carton of milk.”

Some seniors think the high cost of the meals comes from the services SOS provides to residents of other towns like Kings Beach and Tahoe City.

Barry says the cost of meals is so expensive because of regulations placed on providers from federal, state and local funding agencies.

Not only are seniors out of their hot lunches, three employees of SOS are now out of a job.

“We were told two weeks ago that they were going to cancel the program and now I’m out of a job,” said Laura Lee Foster, a SOS employee. “It’s a great program. It’s too bad, I don’t know what these guys are going to do.”

During her time working at the Senior Center Foster has grown fond of the many seniors she cooks for and helps take care of. She sees the lunch program as a great way for the seniors to interact with one another.

Jackie Hall, a senior who eats lunch at the center regularly, likes the good company she gets during her meal. She said it is the main reason she comes to the program.

But Foster worries the most about the homebound seniors she delivers to. The meals on wheels program that SOS sponsors will also stop. The home delivery service brings frozen foods to handicapped residents in Truckee, Tahoe City and Incline Village.

“Some people can’t get out. That’s why we’re here, to bring it to them. For some of these people this is the only meal they get a day,” said Foster.

This is not the first time the lunch program has lost its service provider. The contract has changed hands twice in the past five years.

The lunch program was originally established by an amendment to the Older Americans Act. The act provided for the creation of several state agencies to help provide a variety of services to the elderly.

In California, there are currently 33 area agencies on aging. Truckee is part of the Area 4 Agency on Aging (A4AA), which includes the seven counties of Nevada, Placer, Sacramento, Sierra, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba.

The senior lunch program can use A4AA funds as long as an organization will hold the contract for the services. Barry says they will be happy to assist a local agency to explore the different options available under the contract. They recommend anyone interested in taking on the project speak to A4AA at (916) 486-1876. For now, seniors hope to start a bag lunch program on Mondays.


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