Congregate meals to end after next month at Baldwin City Senior Center
This fall, around 40 senior citizens living in Douglas County will no longer receive their daily meals through Douglas County Senior Service's congregate meal sites.
Those sites, which include two in Lawrence and one in both Baldwin City and Eudora, will be eliminated Sept. 30, in favor of a new program offered through the Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging, said DCSS board member Judy Bellome.
The new program, called Choosing Healthy Appetizing Meal Plan Solutions for Seniors, or CHAMPSS, will begin Oct. 1 and offer seniors a wider variety of meal options through designated Lawrence grocery stores, Bellome said.
"We've gotten decreased federal funding for meals and we've also seen decreasing people coming to the congregate meals in the center," Bellome said. "Which is why the Area Agency on Aging came up with CHAMPSS."
Through CHAMPSS seniors may eat their breakfast, lunch or dinner in their choice of cafeteria sections of Lawrence's two Hy-Vee locations or three of the city's Dillons locations (3440 W. Sixth St., 1846 Massachusetts St. and 1015 W. 23rd St.), Bellome said. The congregate meal program offered a lunchtime meal only five days a week to CHAMPSS's seven days a week, she said.
Since Oct. 1, 2014, the CHAMPSS program has been offered at both of Lawrence's Hy-Vee stores, and the service has been well received, Bellome said.
For more than 20 years the DCSS has offered congregate meals at four specific sites around the county, Bellome said. The program served as a popular eating and social experience, but the numbers of seniors in attendance have dwindled.
"In the '90s you might have had 40 people there (at the Douglas County Senior Center)," she said. "Now in four different sites there is a total of 40 people and 20 of those are pickups — people that aren't sitting down and eating them at the site."
Some of the declining numbers can be attributed to seniors remaining mobile for longer, Bellome said. Many of them are already eating their meals in the cafeterias of local grocery stores.
Seniors who attend the congregate meal sites in Baldwin City and Eudora will have to come to Lawrence for their meals through the CHAMPSS program, Bellome said. However, transportation will be provided for those who cannot make the trip on their own.
Bellome also estimated that some of the seniors currently attending the congregate meal sites may switch to home delivery when the CHAMPSS program kicks in. Currently there are 140 seniors on the home delivery program, she said.
While the CHAMPSS program may offer area seniors a better selection of meals in more convenient locations, heavy reductions in state and federal funding, loss of staff members as well as shrinking donations have played a significant impact in the decision, said DCSS Board Chairman Dennis Domer.
For 2016 DCSS requested a total of $162,500 in state and federal funding, just over half the $324,817 the organization received in 2014, according to Douglas County budget documents.
Douglas County's funding to the organization has actually increased from $528,500 to a requested total of $568,500 between 2014 and 2015, said County Administrator Craig Weinaug.
However, that $40,000 increase is less than a third of the funding cut from state and federal sources.
Taking decreases in state and federal funding into account, Weinaug said the upcoming program change will offset some of the losses.
"When they don't have that congregate meal program they don't have the expenses associated with it," he said. "Which enables them to save some funds, which I think offsets some of the losses they've had."
While eliminating the congregate meal program may cut costs for DCSS, Bellome said any extra funds will go right back into other senior services.
"We're going to be able to put that into our home-delivered meals and public transportation," she said.
In addition to funding cuts, donations to the program are shrinking, Domer said.
For each meal, whether through a congregate meal site or through the upcoming CHAMPSS program, seniors are asked for a small donation of around $3.25, he said. If seniors can't afford the donation they're still given a meal, but that extra cost is shifted back onto the providing organizations.
Currently, average per-meal donations fall well below the asking amount, Domer said.
"We're getting down to the $2 range," he said. "Numbers are going down all over."
Staffing issues have also recently accompanied DCSS's decreasing financials. In late July, DCSS's then-executive director, Kristin Scheurer, turned in her resignation.
Since then Domer, Bellome and board member Steve Tesdahl have assumed the executive director's responsibilities and launched a search for Scheurer's replacement.
When asked how many executive directors the organization has employed over the past several years, Domer said, "Too many. I don't remember, but we've had more than we want."
Domer said Scheurer stepped down to pursue other business endeavors, but admitted the position is a challenging one with below-average pay.
"People are dedicated," he said. "But it's not a place to get wealthy."
Despite those challenges, Domer said the DCSS has seen high interest in the open position and will have a meeting Monday to narrow the field and hopefully begin the interview process.
Orientation for the CHAMPSS program will be held at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St., at 2 p.m. on Sept. 1, Oct. 5, Nov. 2 and Dec. 7. Additional information can be found through JAAA at 235-1367.