Senior centers get financial help from federal grant

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(Host) Vermont’s senior centers are under increasing financial pressure as they try to provide meals and activities for older citizens. The centers will get some help next year from a $280,000 grant obtained by Congressman Bernie Sanders.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Kathy Avery runs the Bugbee Senior Center in White River Junction. And she says that organizations like hers sometimes don’t get the respect they deserve. According to Avery, by providing hot meals and a place for seniors to meet, the centers help keep people healthy and out of expensive nursing homes.

(Avery) “Our entire cost of transportation or a meal for a whole year wouldn’t be as much as one day of tests at the hospital.”

(Dillon) Senior centers have struggled financially for the last several years as federal funds have failed to keep pace with rising costs. Phil Harnois is a member of the board of the Northfield Senior Center. They serve almost 10,000 meals a year, but lose money on each one.

(Haronois) “The biggest need is, we’re turning out meals, the last I knew it costs probably $5.50 to put the meal out the door, and we’re getting funds for probably a little over half of that. So you can see for every meal we turn out, you’re losing $2-3 per meal.”

(Dillon) Vermont’s senior centers and Area Agencies on Aging spend about $4 million annually on meal programs. The money last year provided food to 7,400 people at the centers and to 4,000 more through Meals on Wheels programs.

Congressman Sanders says the state and the senior centers will work with his office to decide the most effective way to use the $280,000 in new federal funds.

(Sanders) “Clearly, however, in my view one way we are going to be looking at is to strengthen the very important nutrition programs that senior centers throughout this state today provide.”

(Dillon) Patrick Flood, the state commissioner of Aging and Independent Living, says the centers play a key role in providing services for the elderly. But he says that role is changing as the population changes. Flood says the federal funds will also help the senior centers plan for the future.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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