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Truckee’s senior meals program threatened

ABHUTCHISON, Sierra Sun

Eighty-one-year-old Elma Medford sits in the same chair at the same table every day when she eats lunch at the Truckee-Donner Congregate Apartments community kitchen.

“I’ve been coming to lunch here for 17 years,” said Medford. She said she looks forward to the senior lunch, the time when she gets to see all of her friends.

Although the lunch program is an integral part of many seniors’ days, its future is uncertain.

“I hear the program may end soon. I hope it doesn’t,” said Medford.

The lunch program operates daily at the senior housing complex, near the rodeo grounds, as part of the federal Area Agencies on Aging.

The program was established by an amendment to the Older Americans Act to plan and provide services which help secure and maintain maximum independence for older individuals.

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.

Within these counties, A4AA funds and monitors more than 65 different programs designed to provide a variety of services to the elderly. AA4A was one of the original six area agencies designated by the state in 1973.

The senior lunch program can use A4AA funds as long as an organization will hold the contract for the services.

The Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District, which currently holds the contract, will discontinue the contract as of June 30. They first took the contract three years ago.

“It’s just a financial reason,” said Jeanette Albright, director of food services for the school district.

“When the district first accepted the contract, they were OK with it as long as it didn’t cost the district money. Right now, the district doesn’t have the dollars to fund it. We were told that the program would take care of itself.”

Albright said that the program will cost the district approximately $13,000. Seventy percent of the program is basically funded by A4AA, and the remaining 30 percent by donations, contributions and fund raising, she said.

In past years, seniors have contributed between $7,500 and $11,000 per year to the program. This year, they did not have that money to contribute, said Albright.

Tom Ballou, regional supervisor for Guardian Management (which manages the senior housing complex and Truckee Pines Apartments), is working hard to find someone to take over the contract by next month.

He said a lot of groups in the area have expressed interest in helping the program to some extent.

“We need to get all of the groups who expressed limited interest to participate in one way or another,” said Ballou.

He met with interested groups Wednesday afternoon to brainstorm a solution. Those interested included Tahoe Forest Hospital, Sierra Nevada College, Northstar, Project M.A.N.A. and many senior volunteers who live at the apartments.

“It’s looking good. We have a couple of very strong candidates that are interested in taking over the contract,” he said.

The program requires a great deal of paperwork and record keeping, according to both Ballou and Albright. All of the meals must meet a specified nutritional standard. The program currently prepares about 60 meals a day, approximately 35 in-house meals, and 25 for the Meals on Wheels program which delivers the meals to seniors at their homes.

“For a lot of these people, it’s the only decent meal they get in a day,” said Ballou.

“We’re talking about 60 meals a day. The production part of it isn’t all that difficult. The administration part is time-consuming and expensive,” he said.

Albright said that district employs three people for the service – a cook, a food service worker and someone to take care of the paperwork. The rest of the labor is off-set by community service.

Town Councilmember Bob Drake whose mother and mother-in-law both reside at the senior housing complex, has expressed interest in heading up the fund raising portion of the program.

“It’s a really important program,” he said. “For those that go up there, it’s the social event of the day.”

Drake said he hopes that an organization from the private sector will take on the contract.

“If we could stay with the private sector, we could avoid the overhead of government bureaucracy. They’ve (TTUSD) got union, they’ve got rules. Taking this on was really in the spirit of good will,” he said.

Ballou said local citizen Hugh Williams is putting together a network of distribution of perishables to seniors.

The focus of the meeting was to determine who could help carry the umbrella by taking on the contract.

“We’re trying to get everyone to the same table. Each group has expressed varying levels of interest in participating,” said Ballou. “There are a lot of people willing and interested. We need a person or organization to step up and help bring it all together.”

The senior lunch, which starts daily at 11:45 a.m., is also open to anyone in the community. Seniors are asked to donate $1.50, and the rest of the community $3.

“Even though it is designed for senior nutrition, the dining hall and menu is open to the public,” he said.

If there is not a new contract by June 30, Ballou said they may lose A4AA funds for the program.

“It’s possible that money designated for this area could be distributed to another part of Area 4. It’s something we would have to proceed with without federal money. The extent of funding meals without dollars is difficult. It’s hard to make a program like that fund itself,” said Ballou.


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