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In wake of cuts to meal programs, Scappoose Senior Center eyes new name to attract more visitors

The Scappoose Senior Center has undergone several changes over the past year. A name change could be next.

Leadership at the center says the facility needs to rebrand itself as the Scappoose Community and Senior Center to expand the number of visitors it attracts to include younger people, but some say the center is losing sight of its mission.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Julie Stephens (right) addresses a speaker during a board meeting at the Scappoose Senior Center. Pictured to her left, Board President Leeroy Schmidt and Robert Glossenger.The senior center is a nonprofit agency that relies on paid annual memberships, fundraising and, up until recently, federal reimbursement money.

Earlier this year, the center announced it would no longer offer its daily lunchtime congregate meal at the center, citing insufficient federal funds to support the program. Around the same time, the senior center stopped preparing its Meals on Wheels entrees in-house, instead relying on the St. Helens Senior Center to cook the meals, then have volunteers from Scappoose deliver them.

"We were trying to survive on $1.25 [per meal] from the government," Julie Stephens, director of the Scappoose Senior Center, said. "We couldn't do it anymore. It was killing us."

Senior center staff and board members say the meal programs were economically unfeasible, but some say the center has cut the programs that mattered most.

Harold Atkins says he was one of the founding members of the Scappoose Senior Center.

"My biggest disappointment has been the loss of the meal service, but I'm confident that will come around again," Atkins said during a recent senior center board meeting. "That was one of the high attractions of the center."

Stephens said the reimbursement the center was getting through the United States Department of Agriculture wasn't enough to cover the actual cost of preparing the meals according to the government's strict dietary guidelines, so the center relied on fundraising from the Scappoose Senior Center Thrift Store and Bread Store to help cover the difference. The center also asked for a nominal fee for its daily meals served on site, but it was a suggested donation and done so on an honor system. Thrift store and bread store revenue isn't high, and not everyone paid for the meals they ate each day at the center, according to Stephens.

After a while, things stopped adding up.

Stephens said something had to give, so the meal programs were reduced. Visitors can now purchase a meal of homemade soup at the center for $3.50.

In an effort to eventually restore the meal program and bolster support for the center, board members and staff say they want to invite more residents to use the center during times when it's otherwise empty. To do that, they have to first get people to want to come.

"A lot of people hear the word 'senior center' and think, 'Oh, that's just for old people,'" Stephens said. "This will help break that gap. It's just going to get the ball rolling without taking away from what the seniors are used to."

But as the center focuses on rebranding itself, residents like Sharon Evinger say members have been left out of the process. The board recently voted to change the name before realizing it needed a full vote from paid members to do so. Ballots are expected to go out this week to determine if the center's roughly 420 members approve of the change.

Despite optimism, some say they fear the direction the center is headed in.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Sharon Evinger of Scappoose addresses the Scappoose City Council Tuesday, Sept. 4 with concerns about recent operations at the Scappoose Senior Center. "I want to keep our senior center," Evinger says. "Seniors need a senior center. Whether you're 50 or 14, if you see senior center and community center, don't you have a different vision of what those are?"

Evinger says changing the center's name could slowly lead to the center changing its dynamic altogether. She points to the organization's bylaws, which list a nutritious, hot meal provided at cost to seniors as a primary function.

Evinger has been vocal about her concerns and has taken to social media and public meetings to alert the public and look for answers. During last week's senior center board meeting, Evinger was publicly lambasted by

Stephens and other members for doing so.

Scappoose city councilors and city staff have taken notice of the changes at the center, too. After attending a senior center board meeting the week prior, Councilor Megan Greisen said she'd like another agency to step in and help.

"Over the past few months, we've heard from current members, the board, the director, and we've heard all of their concerns," Greisen said. "Among other things that are currently taking place at the center, we are extremely concerned about the lack of affordable and nutritious meals that are available to seniors on a daily basis. We feel the need to contact county or state services to assist the senior center to be able to serve affordable meals on a daily basis."

It's unclear what help, if any, outside agencies can provide.

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