The Lewis County Seniors (LCS) nonprofit has secured $300,000 through the state’s 2021 Supplemental Capital Budget that will be used to update and enlarge its kitchen at the Twin Cities Senior Center, with an ultimate end-goal to improve their nutrition offerings.
The funding, secured by the Legislature through the 2021-2023 Building Communities Fund Grant program, is expected to cover about a quarter of the necessary costs related to the project, said Glenda Forga, executive director of Lewis County Seniors.
A new kitchen would help the nonprofit in its effort to bring back its Homebound Meals program and expand upon its ongoing meal delivery program, she said. The move would also allow the nonprofit to sustain the five senior centers in the county so they could save money on cooking their own meals instead of having to order food.
“There’s just so many opportunities by expanding the kitchen,” Forga said.
LCS will attempt to regain local control by bidding back control of its Homebound Meals program later this summer. Catholic Community Services currently operates the program out of Pierce County, but Forga said they feel they have a better understanding of the local elderly community.
Since March 13 and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, all LCS facilities have been closed in an effort to ensure the health and wellbeing of senior citizens. While the doors are to remain closed, Forga said she’s hopeful they’ll be able to open back up this fall.
Throughout the pandemic, the senior center has delivered about 157,000 meals through its emergency meals program to seniors in need. Part of that work has been done in the Chehalis School District’s cafeteria, though LCS resumed work at the main kitchen at the Twin Cities Senior Center last summer.
“Looking at it right now, I feel pretty hopeful … But then they talk about another surge in the pandemic,” she said, referring to the risk that Lewis County could be demoted to Phase 2 of the governor’s reopening plan.
Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, has been readily involved in the happenings of the local senior centers for many years. Whether it’s volunteering, helping emcee at events or helping pass out meals during COVID-19, Abbarno said his involvement has made him more aware of the needs of the community’s most vulnerable citizens.
“They’re an easy group to advocate for, especially during COVID. That’s the kind of vulnerable population that needs support,” Abbarno said, adding later: “They’ve gone through a lot of transitions from the county over the last couple years … I think it’s important we give them whatever tools they need so that the seniors, especially in the rural communities, get whatever support they need.”
Abbarno serves as the assistant ranking minority member on the state House’s Capital Budget Committee. He described the process of considering Capital Budget proposals as remarkably grassroots, with communities across the state lobbying their representatives in Olympia and describing the needs of their communities.
Speaking with The Chronicle, Abbarno noted that three tenets guide his work in the state Capitol: critical needs, jobs and quality of life. LCS’s request, he said, most certainly fulfilled two of those.
Forga said after they submitted their grant application to the Legislature, they underwent an intimidating process of meeting with the committee.
“It was a tough competition. You had to go through the application process, and then you get invited for this personal interview through Zoom,” she said. “You got 10 minutes to talk, and that was it. It was pretty tough.”
LCS’s bid to upgrade its kitchen — and, in the process, hopefully regain better control of its local food programs — is part of a larger move to keep its senior centers focused on the changing needs and demographics of seniors, Forga said.
The full cost to update LCS’s kitchen is expected to be around $1.2 million. Forga said they’ll be looking for additional capital and investments from community members to make their dream a reality.
“It’s going to be a really scary thing to get all that money and I’m going to have to go out and beat the streets,” she said. “We just need all the help we can get.”