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Shortage tightens senior meals

Local center forced to turn people away from free lunches

Posted: August 7, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 7, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Volunteer Edwin Polinski, left, spends a moment with Esther DeGregorio as she wraps up her meal at the SCV Senior Center in Newhall on Friday.

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By Perry Smith

Signal Assistant City Editor

A funding shortage forced the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center to turn away seniors last week, center officials said Monday.

“There was a shortage and a line of people waiting for food,” said Barbara McCray, 82, of Canyon Country, describing her wait Wednesday.

It was the first time service had ever been refused at the center, according to Rachelle Dardeau, executive director of the SCV Senior Center. Some elderly residents who sought home-delivered meals were put on waitlists, which is also the first time this has happened, Dardeau said.

A recent change to the center’s funding left officials with no option but to refuse service at the nonprofit facility that provides free meals for more than 100,000 people each year at its main Newhall facility, two residential centers and through the Home-Delivered Meals program, Dardeau said.

“We were told there’s going to be no more one-time funding,” Dardeau said. “We are no longer allowed to bill (the county) for more than what’s been budgeted.”

In the past, the Senior Center operated with a sort of “credit line,” according to Rafael Carbajal, special assistant to the director of Los Angeles County Community and Senior Services.

All of the county’s centers for elderly resources are federally funded with the county administering those funds, Carbajal said.

Up until July 1, the county would cut checks to centers redistributing federal funds that weren’t used, he explained.

However, Senior Center officials were told at a June 21 meeting there would be no more federal surplus for the 2012-13 fiscal year, so centers must stick to their budgets, Dardeau said.

“We don’t anticipate that surplus anymore, so we told all of our centers that they may only budget for what they can afford (through federal funds),” Carbajal said.

He added that fiscal support from Washington has decreased approximately 4 percent over the last three years, which has coincided with a 30-cents-per-meal increase.

The decision was made to change the policy in August because the center wanted to exercise all possible options before it had to make the necessary cuts, said Rick Patterson, board president for the SCV Committee on Aging, which administers the center.

For customers, the cut has translated to several noticeable changes: First, service is now restricted to seniors more than 60 years old and others meeting certain criteria as listed on the center’s website.

Second, since service is based on a first-come, first-served basis, the center will be forced to turn away customers once it reaches its daily meal allocation.

Nobody has been turned away since last Wednesday, officials said Monday. But there’s no guarantee there won’t be another shortage next Wednesday, which is the center’s busiest day due to live music.

Last week, 30 people were refused service at the Newhall center, and 40 were put on a waiting list.

Confusion was compounded last week when the center changed its Internet and phone providers, leaving the website down and phones disconnected.

The center has retained the same phone number, but its new website is scv-seniorcenter.org.

The hot lunches cost about $6 per meal. While the lunches provided are free, a donation of $3.50 is suggested for each meal. The Senior Center receives an average of $1.27 in donations for each meal.

psmith@the-signal.com

661-287-5526

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