Regional services for seniors shrink

Ryan Slabaugh
Sierra Sun

TRUCKEE and#8212; Funding shortages mixed with an increasing number of impoverished senior citizens are forcing Sierra Senior Services to eliminate programs that feed hundreds of elderly members of the Truckee and Tahoe community.

and#8220;For many individuals, this is the only meal they have on a regular basis,and#8221; said Sarah Deardorff, Sierra Senior Services executive director. and#8220;Many people don’t have the appliances to prepare a meal, and many don’t have family or friends around to help them, even to eat.and#8221;

The current funding paradox is easy to understand but hard to solve: the same people Deardorff and her team want to assist are overwhelming the very services they depend upon.

On top of that, Senior Services are facing a number of steep funding challenges: The amount of people requesting services is double what they receive federal funding for, and Deardorff and the board of directors have had to eliminate three office positions. On top of that, fundraising is down 20 to 30 percent, and the agency’s $50,000 California Wellness Grant expires in December and will not be renewed.

To stay in business, Senior Services will stop serving hot meals to seniors on July 1. Instead, seniors will be delivered frozen meals, which Deardorff said was a and#8220;huge cost savings.and#8221; By law, those meals still have to contain one-third of the recommended daily nutrition requirements.

and#8220;If we didn’t make those changes, we were facing solvency,and#8221; said board president David Kahn. and#8220;But after these changes, the organization is in a much stronger position. If there’s a silver lining, we’re here to provide a Meals on Wheels program and we’ll continue doing that.and#8221;

Like many nonprofit agencies, receiving government funding involves Deardorff and the board wading through a sea of red tape. With California’s current budget in slash-and-burn mode, and last year’s spending freeze on the top of their mind, they hope local fundraising can fill in the gaps. Last year, one state payment arrived four months late.

and#8220;This year’s state budget is still in the works,and#8221; Kahn said. and#8220;So we can’t count on it. The board is unanimous about wanting to deal with the demand with fundraising.and#8221;

The latest federal stimulus did help and#8212; a bit. Sierra Senior Services is now given seven cents more per meal it serves than it did before. To that, Kahn just shakes his head.

and#8220;I had to redo the whole budget for a few cents,and#8221; he said. and#8220;But it’s something.and#8221;

Traditionally, Deardorff and her many volunteers and few full-time staff canvas the region three times a week, dropping off thousands of meals each year. On Fridays, they leave up to three meals at someone’s home to last them through the weekend.

Those same seniors though often have tiny refrigerators and freezers, making food storage a challenge.

and#8220;Sixty-two percent of the home-delivered recipients are over the age of 80,and#8221; Deardorff said. and#8220;I don’t think many people know that there are that many people who are homebound in are area.and#8221;

After these changes go into effect July 1, volunteers will be dropping frozen meals targeted to seniors, as well as looking for appliances to help them store the frozen food.

Deardorff said they have never had to turn away a person in need, but they are starting to brainstorm if and when it would be appropriate to create a waiting list.

and#8220;We’re doing everything in our power not to start one,and#8221; she said.

To help, local residents can sponsor as little as one meal for one senior, which costs about $15 to cover all expenses associated with the meal program. Find more information by calling (530) 550-7600, or at

The Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation will hold a brainstorming session on Wednesday, June 6, at 8:30 a.m. at the Foundation to discuss ways to help Sierra Seniors. Any individuals in the community interested should RSVP to the foundation at ((530) 587-1776.

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