SPRINGFIELD TWP.: Township officials soon will re-evaluate the Senior/Community Center’s hot meal program to assess whether it is reaching its core market — low-income residents —and because it is slated to lose federal funding support while already costing Springfield a significant sum.
Trustee Dean Young said he will bring the issue before the township’s board of trustees for further study after learning the Title III grant that partially funds the program could be eliminated. Also, a report submitted to the board last year showed the meal program is far more popular with people who live outside the community than with township residents.
Seventy to 75 percent of participants eating the meals live outside Springfield, according to the report.
“We have 6,000 households in Springfield. Our meal program serves about 20 people a day, and more than half aren’t Springfield residents,” Young said in a recent interview. “That cries out for review.”
Reduced-price, hot, home-cooked meals are provided five days a week at the center and are available for anyone who dines in or orders carryout, as long as they reserve a meal by 11 a.m. each day.
The federal grant, part of a nutrition program for seniors, is losing its funding due to sequestration that began March 1 as part of the $85 billion across-the-board spending cuts, said Matt Reed of the Area Agency on Aging.
“It’s part of the Older Americans Act that was just sequestered. We haven’t gotten all the information on how everything will fall out,” Reed said.
The grant that subsidizes the program already had been reduced each of the past three fiscal years (from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30), from more than $14,000 in 2009-10 to under $11,000 for 2011-12, the last year for available data. An additional federal nutritional grant dropped from $4,186 to $3,766 to $3,349 in the same span.
According to township figures, the center served 5,705 meals in the 2009-10 year — 2,250 went to 65 Springfield residents and 3,414 to 193 nonresidents. A year later, 4,707 meals were served — 2,096 to 67 residents and 2,513 to 171 nonresidents. A handful of participants refused to disclose where they live.
Trustee Bruce Killian said he favors the community program, which replaced a Meals on Wheels program at least 20 years ago. The fact not all diners live in Springfield is not as important as maintaining nutrition for seniors, he said.
“You talk about the quality of life, but whose life are we talking about? How do you pick and choose?” he asked this week.
The daily congregate meal program at the Senior/Community Center might be the only one of its kind in Summit County, Young said.
“The cost to produce a hot meal that is home-cooked is considered too costly by most communities. They are providing meals contracted through a third-party provider, such as Meals on Wheels,” Young said.
How it works
In Springfield’s program, anyone over the age of 60 is asked for a voluntary donation of $4 for the 4 p.m. meal. The suggested fee for diners younger than 60 is $7.
The board voted to increase the suggested donation by 75 cents as of June 1.
Still, the charges don’t come close to the actual cost of the meal, according to the overview Bobby Dinkins, former director of the center, compiled. He estimated the cost of each meal at $12.04 in 2010 and $13.85 in 2011. (The report did not include the cost for 2012 because Dinkins left the director’s job in October to accept a job as director of marketing for the FirstEnergy All-American Soap Box Derby.)
On a recent Thursday afternoon, Kitty Williams, who has been the Senior/Community Center’s cook for 15 years, said her baked chicken and mashed potatoes dinner is popular with patrons. Twenty-three people reserved the meal that day.
“It’s a social outlet for them,” said Williams, of Barberton, who assumed additional responsibilities at the center when Dinkins left. She said participation has picked up recently, with a daily crowd that might reach 30 on a good day. She said she didn’t know how many of her regulars are Springfield Township residents.
“We love them all, and they love coming in here,” said assistant cook Pearl Salhany of Springfield who has worked at the center about 15 hours a week for the past seven years.
An average meal includes a meat, fish or pasta entree, potato, vegetable or salad, bread and butter, dessert and milk. The township Website provides a daily menu, Williams said.
Aside from daily meals, the center provides midafternoon card games, line dancing and bingo, at which participants are charged 50 cents to pay for coffee, Williams said.
Dinkins’ “snapshot” between 2009 and May 1, 2012 looks at revenue and expenses and showed the township subsidized the meals program at more than $30,000 annually.
“We can purchase a new police cruiser for $23,000,” Young said, noting the township replaces each cruiser every other year.
The township transferred $45,000 from its general fund to the center in 2012 to keep it running, Fiscal Officer Joy Dies said. Expenses totaled $128,300, including the meal program and other activities. Revenue, including meal donations, grants and center and gazebo rentals, totaled $107,600, a shortfall of $20,700.
Total revenue in 2010-11 for the meal program alone was $31,639, while expenses amounted to $65,181, a net cost of $33,542 to the township. A year earlier, the net loss totaled $32,147.
Projected figures indicate a net loss this fiscal year of about $35,000.
“Can we continue to justify the hot meal program? We have to make hard decisions. That’s what is required in the public trust,” Young said.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.