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A ‘main course’ for senior survival

Out of My Head

Posted: June 8, 2008 2:02 a.m.
Updated: August 9, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
There's no place like home."

Throughout our lives we frequently hear that phrase, and often it prompts different reactions.

As children, the words are "in one ear and out the other" - too often kids easily take for granted that "home" is provided by their parents.

As adults, we soberly grasp the value (and challenges) of maintaining a roof overhead.

It isn't until we become senior citizens, however, that the phrase takes on a sacred spin. By that time, whatever domicile we live in, and no matter how small or scaled down, those quarters mean everything.

By then, "There's no place like home" represents late-life independence, cherished and familiar surroundings, a sense of well-being and dignity - particularly for elders who are home-bound and need assistance.

A driving force in keeping our seniors at home and fed is the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center's Home Delivered Meal Program. Provided by the SCV Committee on Aging/SCV Senior Center, these meals have been volunteer-delivered for nearly 30 years, Monday through Friday - through rain and heat and earthquakes and fire and winds.

In all, about 850 households are served annually within a 450-square-mile radius that includes the Santa Clarita Valley and the city of San Fernando. Some are only temporary recipients, elders who are recuperating from surgeries or illnesses. Others are chronic and remain on the program for extended periods of time.

On a daily basis, approximately 360 meals per day are provided, with increases some weeks as much as 3 percent per week. And while a suggested donation of $2.50 is requested, money is never required to receive such a meal.

This all sounds great, but there's one major glitch: For the first time in its history, the program is on such shaky financial ground that those nourishing care packages may not be readily available to everyone in need.

For the first time, our community's Home Delivered Meal Program may be forced to create a waiting list.

What an unfortunate situation that would present: Typically meal recipients are in their 80s, fragile, disabled with chronic conditions, and have inadequate support systems in place.

For many, that home-delivered meal is the only hot meal they have, and the only daily human contact they can count on.

Put frail seniors on hold for a meal?

This just doesn't sound like the community I wrote about some years back when the Santa Clarita Valley was nationally recognized for its "elder friendliness."

Brad Berens, executive director of the Santa Clarita Committee on Aging Corp., explained the program's shortfall.

"Our dilemma is that we are not currently receiving enough funding that keeps pace with the ‘age wave' of our older seniors and the tremendous growth of our frail elderly," Berens, said.

This current year, Berens said, the program ran out of allotted funding in early or mid-May.

"This is two months lack of funding coupled with the inherent deficit in the program that stems from an inability for the client to donate, and double digit cost increases in gas, food, and packaging supplies," he said.

Alas, everyone is affected by our nation's floundering economy, including the matriarchs and patriarchs who created our families and communities.

Robin Clough, Senior Center director of recreation and volunteers, says the Home Delivered Meals program is one of the Senior Center's most critical services.

"They are essential to the quality of life that our elders deserve, and yes, are entitled to," Clough said.

The meal is much more than what could be the recipient's only hot meal of the day.

"It is an alternative to institutionalization, which almost always results in physical and mental decline," Clough said.

To see the look of anticipation in the eyes of the elderly as the meals truck arrives, and then to experience their smiles and gratitude, makes an indelible impression in the hearts of all the delivery drivers, she noted.

"This tiny bit of social interaction and human contact has an immeasurable impact on quality of life. Moreover, the Senior Center drivers use this opportunity to assess the health and safety of the senior, which has even saved lives," Clough said.

"Without support from our community, the Senior Center will no longer be able to be a lifeline for our most vulnerable citizens, and this cannot be allowed to happen," Clough said, adding: "As it is, so many of them are struggling against insurmountable obstacles bombarding them from every direction."

Kathleen Crone, director of development for the Santa Clarita Valley Committee on Aging/Senior Center, asks community members to embrace this cause.

"One person can make a change!" Crone declared.

Dawn Green-Zirbel is one such activist. She helped organize next Monday's charity golf tournament (happening through the SCV Division of the Southland Regional Association of Realtors and the American Golf Foundation), which is being held to benefit the HDM program.

"No one else came forward, and others believed she would only get half of the turnout they did last year because it was late in planning, but Dawn heard that the meal programs were suffering and she refused to let the seniors of our community go without a meal," Crone said. "She rallied her troops" and signed up more golfers than came the previous year, she said.

* * * * *

Are we still an elder-friendly community? I think so. So does Brad Berens, "especially when compared with other locales."

The executive director also feels that the Senior Center's support should have a large base, including the more than 9,000 current participants of the Senior Center's programs, the tens of thousands who utilized its resources before completing their life's journey, and the extended families of those who were assisted and are now receiving services.

"They can be our best hope for charitable support as larger numbers of elders seek our services," Berens said. "They know best how the SCV Senior Center enriches, enhances, and nourishes the quality of life for our community's elders."

As I said at the top, "There's no place like home."

Hopefully, if enough people believe that motto should also apply to our frail seniors, we'll be better able to help keep them there longer - as they await those friendly knocks at the door and the meals that nurture much more than their appetites.

If you would like to help the Home Delivered Meals program, then please consider supporting the SCV Senior Center Foundation. The new fundraising arm of the non-profit Senior Center, it has been established to improve the quality of life for our seniors.

Here's how donations can help:

* One senior's home-delivered meals for a week: $15

* One lunch at the SCV Senior Center for a week: $10

* One day in daycare, including lunch for one senior: $20

* One day of emergency personal care service: $100

For more information visit www.scvseniorfoundation.org

Diana Sevanian is a Santa Clarita resident and freelance writer. Her column reflects her own opinion and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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