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Cutbacks Affect Local Senior Meals Program
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Lunches for senior citizens at the Riverbank Community Center and delivery of meals to local housebound seniors continue despite the providers running low on funds as announced last month. But the cuts have affected the Senior Nutrition and the Meals on Wheels programs here besides other programs across the county.

Using state and federal funds, the Stanislaus County Agency on Aging contracts with Howard Training Center in Modesto to cook and serve meals at 13 senior centers across the county and bring meals to the homes of seniors who cannot reach centers because they are disabled or without transportation.

Because of an 18 percent rise in demand this year, the Howard Training Center discovered in early May they were running out of funds and cut back the program so it could keep going until it was refunded for another year on July 1.

The Meals on Wheels program had been costing $64,000 a month to serve about 850 seniors of 60 years and over across the county, said Agency on Aging official Jill Erickson. To save funds Howard Training Center has now raised the age limit and restricted meal deliveries to homes of housebound seniors of 80 and over. The number of homebound clients currently totals about 220 and costs around $20,000 a month to serve, said Howard Training Center senior manager Misty Ridenour.

The two agencies are now discussing restructuring the program for the next fiscal year so as to keep the 80 years plus citizens on a priority program and serve the 60-year-olds as funds allow. It may come down to new criteria for service such as a waiting list besides age limits.

Looking specifically at the Riverbank program, Ridenour said the center is now serving only 38 homebound seniors here under the Meals on Wheels program. The Senior Nutrition Program, which provides meals at community centers and thus also provides opportunities for seniors to gather together and socialize, has also sustained cutbacks across the county.

Centers that previously offered meals five days a week have now been reduced to serving only three days a week.

The reductions made no difference in Riverbank as the program in this town has only operated on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday for many years, although local organizers were trying only last year to extend the number of days.

The community center serves an average of 24 meals a day, according to Ridenour. Erickson called the local program very successful and said she has seen up to 30 people eating lunch at the Riverbank center. The center opens to seniors about 10 a.m. for conversation, table games and socialization and the meal arrives from Modesto and is served around noon.

Meal participants are asked to donate $2 but nobody over 60 is refused a meal for lack of money.

The current problem with the Riverbank program, according to both Erickson and Ridenour, is that there is no permanent site manager .This job has been handled in the past by a volunteer. For the moment a paid Howard Training Center employee takes time out from other work to serve as site manager.

The Riverbank center is looking for one or several volunteers who would be willing to do the work for free. Dotty Nygard, a member of both the Riverbank City Council and the county Commission on Aging, has suggested a local church might put forward a volunteer or several churches perhaps split the work between them, though there has been no official action toward that end.