January 18, 2007

Funding Cuts, Declining Numbers Taking Toll On Senior Center

There is no such thing as a free lunch. The saying has been around much longer than many of the folks at the Scotland County Senior Nutrition Center, who may beg to differ.

Visitors at the Scotland County Senior Nutrition Center are asked to contribute toward the cost of the meal, but by law the center cannot charge anyone over the age of 60 that eats at the facility.

But while the meal may not technically cost the guest anything, it still must be paid for by the facility.

That financial burden can take its toll when the facility hosts an average of 900 lunch guests a month while delivering another 450 meals a month.

“We ask for a $3 contribution from our diners, but that is not required,” said center coordinator Barbara Triplett. “Most people are really good about doing what they can financially.”

But even if each guest paid the recommended rate, it is becoming more and more difficult for the center to finance its operations.

The facility is contracted through the Northeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging which oversees the limited federal and state funding for the program. Those revenue sources continue to shrink.

“I would estimate we receive $1.75 to $2.00 per meal in state and federal money,” Triplett said. “And that figure keeps declining. In the past three years I suspect we have seen a decline in funding of $4,000 to $5,000.”

Unlike Schuyler County, which is supported by a local tax levy, and other area facilities that have financial benefactors like United Way chapters, the Scotland County facility is on its own financially.

What the center doesn’t receive in state and federal funding or user contributions, it attempts to make up in fundraisers.

The organization’s big moneymaker is coming up January 21st when the center will host its January fundraiser dinner. Donors will be treated to ham or turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy and much more. The cost of the meal is $6.

The group also hosts an annual ice cream social and a couple of soup suppers to try to raise money for the center.

“I think there is a misconception that senior centers are totally governmentally funded,” Triplett said. “We depend on these fundraisers to make ends meet.”

Making those ends meet is becoming tougher.

Triplett said the recent minimum wage increase has caused the center to cut hours on some of its seven employees. The facility has a full-time administrator and one full-time cook. None of the employees receive benefits.

The center depends on volunteer labor to man the register desk and to do the facility’s laundry. Volunteers from area churches also take on the task of delivering meals.

“We can’t say enough about these folks,” Triplett said. “They are a tremendous help to us. They are real good to take time out of their busy schedules and donate their time and effort.”

But like most senior centers across the state, Scotland County Nutrition Center is seeing a decline in the number of patrons taking advantage of the facility.

“We are losing folks,” Triplett said. “A lot of the the people that have used the center over the years are gone now. Most senior centers across the state are seeing similar patterns.”

Triplett said a large part of the clientele are 80 years of age or older. The “younger” generation is not taking advantage of the center as much. She said that can be contributed to a number of factors like people working longer or just remaining more independent.

Triplett said the center is making efforts to attract more users while also seeking to expand deliveries.

The latter area did receive a boost in funding from the state in Medicaid meals that is governed by the Division of Family Services. The center is reimbursed for meals to low income qualifiers.

Still home deliveries have declined in the past few years to 20-25 a day as opposed to 35-40 a day back in 2004.

“What people need to realize is that one month of home delivered meals cost less than one day in the nursing home,” Triplett said. “A year’s worth of delivered meals costs less than one day at the hospital. It’s pretty affordable and can help people stay in their homes and receive the meals they need.”

The center continues to target home deliveries as well as recruitment of younger users as two areas of growth. Continued demand combined with an increase in volunteers might someday allow the center to expand deliveries outside of city limits but currently funding restrictions have not made that possible.

For now, the center will continue to focus on providing lunch five days a week for its users. The facility is open 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and offers a meeting area for social activities outside of the meal times.

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