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Scappoose Senior Center says weekday lunch program will go away, with St. Helens to take over Meals on Wheels

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Kathy Meyers, a volunteer at the Scappoose Senior Center, pours juice and other beverages during the lunch hour at the senior center. To her left, Felix, 3, watches and waits for juice. The senior center announced recently that it will end the lunch program. Lunches served to seniors at the Scappoose Senior Center will cease Feb. 19.

For years, the senior center has served prepared meals each Monday through Thursday for a $4 suggested donation. The meals are prepared in conjunction with the center's Meals on Wheels program, but are served at the center, giving residents an option to buy a low-cost, freshly prepared meal, while getting out of the house and socializing with others.

Julie Stephens, director of the Scappoose Senior Center, said the center's board of directors recently voted unanimously to end the congregate meal program, citing rising costs that went largely unreimbursed and declining attendance at the lunch program.

"Financial donations and support mainly come from the same small group of generous patrons," a letter announcing the changes states. "However they cannot carry the entire burden."

In addition to the lunch program being cut, the center's Meals on Wheels program will soon be taken over by the St. Helens Senior Center.

"Nobody who is homebound is going to miss a meal," Stephens emphasized.

The Scappoose Senior Center receives U.S. Department of Agriculture grant funding, along with funds from the Older Americans Act, in addition to revenue from the Scappoose Senior Center Thrift Store, an ongoing can and newspaper donation program, twice weekly bingo nights, and annual fundraising events.

But with badly needed repairs to the thrift store building and declining lunch attendance leading to less money recouped from the meal program, Stephens said there simply isn't enough money coming in to cover the costs anymore.

She estimates it costs the center about $7 per meal served, due largely to strict nutritional guidelines and staffing costs, but what comes back in the way of donations and federal funding is far less.

"By the time it gets to us it was about 72 cents to about just over a dollar a meal," Stephens said of the federal funding. "That just doesn't cover the costs, so we've been covering the cost for years."

An announcement about the lunch program's cut was distributed to senior center attendees recently, via a printed letter.

"With membership dropping due to seniors moving, becoming homebound, or passing away our center has become less frequented and unfortunately quieter over time," Stephens wrote in the announcement letter.

Some say they fear seniors will lose out on nutritious meals. Joan Haefele, a member of the senior center, said those who rely on the program typically don't cook for themselves.

"We come in once a week to visit with my parents," Haefele said Wednesday, sitting at a roundtable with siblings and grandchildren.

"Once this is closed, they will not have a noon meal," Haefele said. "This is it for them."

Another diner, who declined to give his name, called the program cut "terrible," noting, "senior services are just as important as children's services."

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