May 3, 2012 | Vol. 42, No. 18

Senior lunches to be cut to 3 per week

Mary Lekanof lost her car keys in a snow bank for a month last winter, but she made it to town for meals with other senior citizens through a popular program that provides bus service and lunch four days a week.

The program will be cut to three days a week beginning July 1 due to a change in a grant formula. Hours will be reduced accordingly for most of the program’s four part-time workers. It’s the second such cut in recent years for the program that started in the 1970s serving seniors five days a week.

The program in January raised its requested donation from $4 to $5. About 40 come for lunch each day, said Leslie Whittington, who works as site manager and cook.

“Everybody in Haines wants us to have five days of service, not to go backward to three,” said Marsha Partlow, regional coordinator for Southeast Senior Services, the agency that oversees the lunch program. “It’s a final decision, based solely on the budget.”

The program’s main grant application has new requirements that prevent the agency from funneling an extra $40,000 to Haines, as was done previously, Partlow said. “It’s hard to explain. People are going to be confused. It’s not that they’re giving us less money, but that we can’t distribute it the same way. We can’t favor Haines any more.”

Partlow will be at the senior center next week to speak with clients about the changes. Cutting one day of service still leaves a $17,000 program deficit, she said. “I’m not 100 percent positive where that’s coming from. Hopefully we can find some other funding sources.” The program is funded largely by state and federal grants.

The cut in service is a loss, seniors including Lekanof said Tuesday, following a lunch of Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, peas and peach salad at the Senior Center. “The meals are very attractive and well-balanced,” said Lekanof, who moved here seven years ago and has made friends through the program.

“It’s a good, social time and it’s good for getting people out of the house,” she said.

Customer Nikki Hopper, a longtime Haines resident who comes four days a week, said nutrition can be difficult for seniors who often cook for one. “We need this program. So many people just don’t eat right. It’s not that they can’t cook. It’s just that they don’t cook right. You don’t do well cooking for one.”

Senior Bob Lix comes for lunch twice a week. He plays bridge with friends there before his meal. The lunch program provides an important social function by helping seniors look after one another, he said.

“We keep an eye out for each other. If you sit at home, you never see (other seniors). You don’t know how they’re doing, whether they’re holding steady or deteriorating,” Lix said.

The program also faces a potential cut from the Haines Borough, which last year contributed $6,600 to it. The draft borough budget would cut in half all requests from community non-profits.

“If (the borough) gives only half of what we’re asking, we’ll be needing $20,000 from keeping the Haines program from going in the red. I understand the borough’s position but I don’t know how we’re going to deliver services to such a big portion of the population without funding,” Partlow said.