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Local News

Community Action Commission’s Senior Lunch Program Left Off Santa Maria Grant List

The program, which provides a hot meal once a day to 350 low-income seniors and disabled residents, is seeking options to make up the lost funding

Jane Hood participates in the Healthy Senior Lunch program operated by the Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County. The 82-year-old Santa Maria resident is a regular visitor to Union Plaza for meals and interaction with others.
Jane Hood participates in the Healthy Senior Lunch program operated by the Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County. The 82-year-old Santa Maria resident is a regular visitor to Union Plaza for meals and interaction with others. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A lunch program that serves 350 low-income senior citizens and disabled residents in Santa Maria didn't get a piece of the federal funding pie through annual grants doled out by city.

The Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County operates the Healthy Senior Lunch program to provide a hot meal once a day to low-income senior citizens and disabled residents and is looking to raise the funding to replace the grant from Santa Maria.

The program was left out of the funding proposal for the Santa Maria’s Community Development Block Grants. Clients and other supporters pleaded with the Santa Maria City Council last week to support the CAC lunch program.

Fran Forman, CAC executive director, expressed disappointment and concern for the clients who rely on the program she called “a true safety net.” 

“We depend upon local support to operate this program,” she said.

Lunch is served at three Santa Maria locations or delivered to homes for those unable to get to the one of the sites. In addition to Santa Maria, CAC’s program also operates in Lompoc, Guadalupe, Orcutt, Goleta, Santa Barbara and Carpinteria.

Even with local support from city grants and small payments from clients who can afford it, CAC must raise two-thirds of the funding to operate the program, Forman said.

“Santa Maria is the only city that will not be supporting this program. This is a hardship for our agency and our ability to provide basic services,” Forman said. “In most cases, our driver is the only person that the senior sees each day.”

Last year, the program received less than $5,000. This year, CAC requested $15,000.

Unlike many other nonprofit programs, CAC received categorical funding meaning it is earmarked for specific program and can’t be diverted to Healthy Seniors Lunch, officials said. 

“We’re stuck. We don’t really know what we’re going to do,” said Mike Cordero, a CAC board member and former council member. “The bottom line is we’re not going to be able to provide, at this point and time, 350 meals we planned to provide and that means that about 350 low-income vulnerable seniors are not going to have their hunger pains addressed by CAC. We just don’t have the money.”

Before the matter landed before the City Council, an advisory committee reviewed the applications and submitted recommendations to the panel, which approved them without changes by a 4-0 vote last week. Councilman Jack Boysen stepped down due to his employment with Good Samaritan Shelter.

In all, the city will receive more than $1.3 million with $265,800 for general administration, $863,854 for capital projects and $199,350 for public service needs. The city also will receive $199,107 to benefit affordable housing programs.

Requests submitted to the city exceed the available grant money. Under public service requests the city received 31 applications totaling $425,023, far short of the $199,350 available and recommended for funding. The full list is available by clicking here.

Committee chairwoman Rosalie Marquez noted the difficulty in dividing up the funding while looking at the regulations, council priorities and results of a survey.

“We did the best we could and I hope that you welcome our decision,” Marquez said. “It was very difficult this year. Some of our committee members said they had never worked so hard in life.”

Council members and representatives of CAC and other nonprofit groups noted agonizing decisions faced by the advisory committee members in trying to split the limited money among the many deserving organizations. In addition to reviewing applications, the committee makes site visits and meets several times before submitting the recommendation. 

Among those to receive CDBG funding is the FISH Meals on Wheels program. Forman said CAC’s program serves those who don’t need a strict medical meal and feeds those referred from other programs.

“The need is there for both of us,” she said.

Participants in the CAC Healthy Senior lunch program say that without it they would have to choose between eating, paying rent or buying medications.

The mealtime also provides them a chance to socialize.

Jane Hood, 82, goes to Union Plaza for the meal and interaction with others.

“If I wasn’t eating there, I’d be having peanut butter at home and talking to my cat,” Hood said, adding, “I love to go there to see the people and eat the food.”

On Monday, she talked to a friend while eating her chicken meal at Union Plaza.

Forman said CAC will push to make up the missing funds. The May 7 Champions Dinner at Hotel Corque in Buellon will recognize three supporters — Dr. Takashi Wada, the Rev. Jon-Stephen Hedges and Franziska Shepard — while also raising money for Healthy Seniors Lunch program.

After the council meeting, Forman said she heard from city officials regarding potentially giving CAC rent relief for Elwin Mussell Senior Center and Atkinson Community Center sites. CAC currently pays $400 a month each. 

“If you do the math that adds to our overhead to run this program,” Forman said.

CAC also has a Take a Senior to Lunch Campaign for anyone to donate $55 a month to buy via PayPal one person’s meal through the group’s website.

If there’s a blessing from being left off the list of recipients, it’s CAC had a chance to talk about the program, Forman said, adding she’s already looking to next year to ensure the program receives a share of the grant funding.

“This need is not going to go away,” Forman added.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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