Some kitchens could be closed
Providing a good meal to Storm Lake's senior citizens has always been a priority for the Northwest Aging organization, but changes may be in store for the daily dinner dates at the Senior Citizen's Center, held to provide free nutritional meals for those over the age of sixty.
According to Cynthia Beauman, the Executive Director of Northwest Aging, the organization is $56,000 in debt, and if their current situation continues, they may well be over $100,000 in the hole in the near feature.
Northwest Aging didn't always have a deficit. Four years ago, the federal government learned that the organization had a fund balance of $600,000, which was money left over after paying all the bills, earned mostly from dinner contributions. This money also acted as a "rainy day fund," paying off any shortcomings the organization had. However, the federal government told Northwest Aging they had to spend the extra money by October 1, 2003, or lose it to the state.
Northwest Aging did spend the "extra" money by purchasing new tables and chairs, doors, and air conditioning.
However, now that the organization doesn't have money left over to fill any holes in the annual bills, the deficit has grown to be a major problem.
The gaping hole left by the absence of the rainy day fund isn't the only problem Northwest Aging has encountered. Beauman says that 35 years ago, the senior citizens were different than those today. "Sixty-year-olds won't go to the same place their parents go to eat," she said. "I've got 85-year-olds telling me that when they get old, they'll go."
Along with a lengthening lifespan, many seniors would rather go to restaurants to eat, where there are more choices and more variety. "We are required to serve one-third of the daily nutritional allowance in each meal," said Beauman.
Storm Lake seniors are also presented with the problem that there is insufficient parking around the Storm Lake Senior Center, and the building is not handicap accessible, making it difficult for those who are not able to walk well or who are in wheelchairs to attend the meals.
All of these factors have contributed to the fact that the meal count has gone significantly down in the past few years, which means contributions to the program also decrease. With the loss of contributions and the fund balance, Northwest Aging is facing a problem.
Solutions that were meant to boost meal attendance have largely failed, and now Northwest Aging is looking at revamping the entire program to preserve the service in the communities.
The organization is taking bids from companies that would serve as a single contractor to unify the eight kitchens Northwest Aging provides to service nine counties, including the Storm Lake site.
If they cannot find a single contractor, up to five of the kitchens may be closed. Those sites have not yet been determined.
Northwest Aging is also looking at the possibility of changing over some of their kitchens to participating restaurants, like their center in Southpark Mall in Spencer. Or seniors in the program could go to their local banks to buy tickets, or coupons, to go buy their own food at grocery stores. "The main thing to keep in mind is that we can ask for contributions, but we will not charge for meals," said Beauman.
Currently, the average cost of providing one meal is $6.24, and the average contribution per meal is only $2.47.
No changes for the Storm Lake Senior Center dinner date have been announced yet, and according to site manager Annette Bruns, Northwest Aging is still talking about what to do.
Northwest Aging has provided meals and other activities to Storm Lake seniors for over 25 years. They currently serve 40 meals per day, including carryouts, which has decreased by about 15 meals in the last few years.