Center tries to maintain meals

BLUE EARTH – There’s hope that the Blue Earth Senior Center will keep serving meals after losing federal funding, officials say, but no matter what happens with the food service, the Senior Center will still be there.

“The Center will stay open,” promised Linda Jahnke, assistant director. “I had 15 phone calls in one morning, people asking if we were closing.”

The confusion comes after the loss of funding for the food program.

“It was a designated nutrition site by a federal program that had funding cut,” said Kathy Bailey, Blue Earth city administrator. “We’re one of the sites being cut.”

The city was given about six weeks notice that the funding would run out, and is now looking into how to keep the program operating.

The Senior Center board met this week to consider two bids. They came from Parker Oaks in Winnebago and A’viands of Roseville. Parker Oaks is the current vendor at the Senior Center while A’viands serves meals at the Faribault County Jail.

“Both (bids) were inviting, yet both had things we need to work on,” Bailey said. “The biggest issue with both, to be cost-effective for seniors, we need to provide transportation for the meal.”

Winnebago is about eight miles from Blue Earth, which can be problematic in the winter. Meanwhile, A’viands is using the kitchen at the jail in Blue Earth and “we need to get additional permission from the county commissioners to provide meals for us,” Bailey said.

“With either vendor, the price (of the meals) will go up,” she noted. “I’m not thinking significantly. It’s that transportation issue that will cause some of the increase. That’s an issue – affordability.”

The Senior Center board will make a recommendation to the Blue Earth City Council that Parker Oaks continue serving meals for two months while the bids are considered, Bailey said.

The topic will come before the City Council on Jan. 6, and could be part of the county commissioners meeting on Jan. 7.

Working out an agreement with a vendor is important. Although the Senior Center has a kitchen, it is not equipped to prepare meals, Bailey said. To do so, it would need to rip out the kitchen, install a commercial kitchen and hire someone authorized to prepare meals.

The meals were previously overseen by Region 9 Area Agency on Aging and Lutheran Social Services.

“As part of the federal program, we received $8,000 a year,” Bailey said. “As a method of addressing that, the (Senior Center) board recommends to the city that we reduce the hours of operation by a half hour a day.”

Starting after New Year’s, the Center will open 30 minutes later, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Jahnke said.

The board will pledge United Way donations to make up the shortfall, and request $1,700 from the council, Bailey said.

“The (Senior Center) board felt the meals were very important,” she said. “In 2012, we provided 5,251 meals. It is a used program.”

If the Center loses its meal program, seniors have limited options. Those who live in Blue Earth can utilize Meals on Wheels, but the Center has attendees who do not live in Blue Earth. They will have to eat out or cook for themselves.

Getting fed is important, but the meals provide something else.

“It’s more than just a meal and nutrition; it’s about the socialization,” Bailey said.