Serving our seniors: benefit for programs Saturday | SierraSun.com

Serving our seniors: benefit for programs Saturday

Katherine Morris, Sierra Sun

To a large portion of Truckee’s senior population, Tanya Schnitzius is a guardian angel. Five days a week, she loads up her beige Dodge SUV with supplies and pays house calls to a handful of homebound seniors scattered throughout the community as part of the Senior Meals Program, which feeds nearly 70 local seniors every day.

As she nears her first client’s home, she plows through the three-inch thick powder onto the sidewalk of the apartment complex and parks right outside the door of her destination.

“I think that we deserve a few privileges for what we do,” Schnitzius says with a smile.

She raps on the door and is greeted by Karen, a new client, or friend, as Schnitzius likes to call them, whose eyes light up at the sight of a familiar face. Karen eagerly accepts the bags of freshly prepared food she has for her.

“This makes my life so much easier,” says Karen as she sits down to eat her lunch.

Today’s menu: oven-roasted turkey, homemade corn muffins with green chilies, mixed vegetables and ice cream.

Meanwhile, Nick Buick, director of Truckee Sierra Senior Services, the program responsible for providing the meals, is holding down the fort back at the senior center dining hall, where the bulk of the meals are served.

“Our goal is to keep our seniors fed, to make sure they don’t go to bed without having a nutritious meal,” Buick said.

Buick, a part-time Truckee resident and director of three similar San Francisco meals programs, first got involved with the program last April when the previous services contractor, Serve Our Seniors, Inc. of Orangevale, Calif., pulled out because of financial difficulties.

Buick quickly stepped in and took over the contract to insure meal services would continue uninterrupted.

Today, with Buick at the helm and with the help of the Truckee Tahoe Senior Council, a relatively new nonprofit corporation dedicated to meeting the needs of community seniors, the program is out of the red, but not necessarily out of the clear.

“This program can’t survive without continued community support,” Buick said.

One form of that support is through donations.

According to Buick, currently only 50 percent of the program is funded by the Area 4 Agency on Aging, a federal program that sponsors programs for the elderly. Another 25 percent of funds come from the seniors themselves, who are asked but not required to make donations for each meal they receive.

“Those donations are generally around $1.50, while a meal costs around $7 to $8 to prepare,” Buick said.

That means that the program is still left to foot the final 25 percent of the bill, roughly $2,000 per month, with the help of various fundraising activities and donations by community members and local businesses.

The Truckee Tahoe Senior Council, which formed in response to last year’s meal program crisis, has taken on the responsibility of developing and carrying out such fundraisers like the monthly pancake breakfast and upcoming Bingo Night and Spaghetti Dinner on Feb. 2.

“The [spaghetti dinner] is our first shot at a major fundraising event,” said Dave Dunlap, president of the board of directors of the Truckee Tahoe Senior Council. “All of the service clubs in the area are helping out with this and we’re hoping to get about 300 people to come out and support us.”

However, a lack of funds is just one of several problems the meals program is battling.

“Just as we need a strong donor base, we also need a strong volunteer base,” Schnitzius said. “If we had more volunteers, we could divide up the homebound route, and then we would have more time to spend with each client.”

Schnitzius said that most days, she is the only visitor that many of her clients receive.

“It’s so hard because of my time frame, I only have two hours to deliver all of these meals before the temperature of the food drops and the meals become unsafe to serve. That often leaves me with only three to four minutes to chat with and check up on people,” she said. “I would love to be able to spend more time with my clients, to access their current living/health/well being situation. A lot of these people just want someone to talk to.”

Buick said he doesn’t know what people would do without this program and the people who hold it together like Schnitzius.

Recently, she arrived at a new client’s mobile home to find that the elderly woman had frozen pipes and no water.

“Can you believe it?” Schnitzius said, sounding completely annoyed. “Her manager said that it’s not his responsibility to deal with the pipes. She’s in there melting snow just so she can have some water.”

Schnitzius made sure to return later that day with several 3-gallon jugs of water for the woman.

“Tanya is like a mother to us seniors. I don’t know how she does it, because she takes care of us and then has to go home and take care of her own children and family,” said Senior Meals client Sharon Dewberry, as she chatted with a table full of friends over lunch at the senior center.

Dewberry said she wants the community to know that local seniors really need more support.

“The town of Truckee needs to stop treating their seniors like unwanted stepchildren. If we didn’t have this program, we’d be sitting at home, alone, eating cold cereal for every meal.”

And that is precisely why Buick said this program is so important.

“A lot of the time seniors are institutionalized prematurely, when the real problem is that they haven’t been eating properly or enough,” he said. “When they don’t eat properly, nutritiously, their bodies degenerate a lot faster.”

Buick said that the Senior Meals program actually saves taxpayers money in the long run because it enables seniors to stay at home, rather than be institutionalized, which costs a great deal more.

“We’ve found people eating cat food before,” Schnitzius said. “There are so many people that don’t even know our project exists. We just haven’t been able to do the outreach that we need to do because we’re understaffed and tight on money. Outreach has been put on the back burner because feeding our clients has to be the first priority.”

Tanya said she believes there could be as many as 900 senior citizens living in the area. “We only see 80 to 100 of them,” she said. “Seventy percent of our problems stem from the lack of community awareness. People just don’t know about the needs of seniors, nor that we even have a senior center.”

However, both Buick and Schnitzius said that things are looking up for the program and that they are encouraged by the increasing community support they’ve seen over the last six months.

“I am hopeful that this support only continues to grow in the future,” Schnitzius said. “When seniors know that the community has donated things for them, they feel edified, like they are valued and not disregarded by their community.”

Senior benefit

Come out and support your seniors, Saturday, Feb. 2, at a “Bingo Night and a Spaghetti Dinner” at the Truckee Community Center. The Truckee Lionesses are providing dinner, while the Truckee Lions tend the bar, which opens at 5 p.m. Dinner, from 6 to 7 p.m. is $8 and bingo, which starts at 7 p.m., is $10 for 10 games. There will also be a silent auction throughout the evening. All proceeds go towards the senior meals program.