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Seniors still suffering as organization recovers

Think Auburn First should extend to nonprofits, director says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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An Auburn aid group is slowly recovering from cuts and layoffs that sent it reeling in October. Seniors First is a non-profit organization based in Auburn, but it offers services to seniors throughout Placer County. In early October the Seniors First board of directors decided to cut back or temporarily shut down several of its programs. The Meals on Wheels and Door-to-Door Rides programs were cut back from five days a week to three. Door-to-Door Rides were also restricted to medical appointments and trips to grocery stores. Several other programs were temporarily shut down, including Information and Assistance, Friendly Visitor and Housing Options. Seniors First also laid off 14 staff members. The cuts came as a result of a lack of funding caused by California’s 100-day budget stalemate. Now that some time has passed, Seniors First is starting to get back on its feet, but some cuts won’t be reversed, said Executive Director Candace Roeder. “Things have improved a bit,” Roeder said last week. “We have brought all but six (staff members) back to their schedules. We permanently laid off six people, so we can provide the services we provide. We are actually stretched really thin.” While all programs are running again, some have been left with scars, Roeder said. “Everything is back up and running,” she said. “Our Door-to-Door Rides program is not up to full steam, because we need more volunteer (drivers). We don’t have the funding to continue to feed the number of seniors we were feeding. We are going to have to make some adjustments in the home-delivered meals.” Roeder said the organization produces 85,000 meals a year for its Meals on Wheels program and its various Seniors First Café locations, and that number will have to be cut by 17,000 to adjust for the discrepancy in stagnant government funding and the rising cost of food. To meet the necessary cut, Seniors First will have to stop delivering meals to some of its current clients, Roeder said. “It means that we are probably going to have to lower our meal count by about 68 seniors,” she said. Roeder said the organization will have to decide which seniors have the highest need for delivered meals. “We have to look at the greatest good we can provide, and how do we get that greatest good?” she asked. Kelly Lowery, Meals on Wheels coordinator, said clients were greatly impacted when the program was cut back from Monday through Friday to Monday, Wednesday and Friday. “They were really affected by going back to three days,” Lowery said. “I had a lot of seniors calling in telling me they were only eating a portion of their meal on Monday so they would have a portion on Tuesday.” Auburn residents Martin and Nellie Souza, both in their 80s, moved from San Jose to Auburn three years ago. They are both blind and receive meals five days a week. “We don’t have (meal delivery) in San Jose, and San Jose is a big city,” Martin Souza said. Although the Souzas have a son living in Colfax, the meal deliveries make life easier. “It wouldn’t do us any good (if the meals weren’t delivered), but we would eat I imagine,” Martin Souza said. “Financially it definitely would (affect us if we didn’t have the meals). Meals on Wheels has been a great asset to us.” Martin Souza said he is a big fan of the food, and enjoys interacting with those who bring the meals. “They are all pleasant,” he said. “They are very nice. Some of them like to sit there and talk. Lately, in the last year, the meals have been terrific.” Roeder said while the organization has 350 active volunteers, more are always needed to continue programs like Meals on Wheels and Door-to-Door Rides. Meadow Vista resident Harry Young, who has been volunteering with Seniors First for six or seven years, said he enjoys volunteering as a driver for the Door-to-Door rides program. “Everybody needs help at one time, and I personally feel I may need this service some time,” Young said. “If you have time, it’s wonderful and most recipients are certainly grateful.” According to Lowery, the Meals on Wheels program currently serves 200 seniors in Placer County and there are 50 more on a waiting list. “Some of the people on our waiting list, they are a lot like (the Souzas),” she said. “They are blind, and they don’t have family around.” Roeder said the $30,000 raised through the annual November Fall Wine & Brew Fest helped Seniors First gain back some of its momentum. “We had a great turnout, and people were very generous, both the participants and the vendors,” she said. “It gave us the funds to turn things around even more quickly than we thought. Even though we projected a month (to begin recovery), it looked like we were going to be going a bit longer.” Roeder said Think Auburn First should expand beyond businesses to non-profits, because help is always needed. “A lot of the time people have a limited amount of money they can donate, so if they are donating that money to Haiti that means Placer County seniors aren’t getting that money,” she said. “So, it’s kind of a trade-off.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com ------------------------------------------------------ Seniors First What: A non-profit organization serving seniors in Placer County Where: 11566 D Ave., Auburn Website: seniorsfirst.org For information: Call (530) 889-9500