There’s no such thing as a free lunch

It’s Monday morning, a few hours before lunch, and the Olympia Senior Center kitchen is silent. There are no cooks, no sound of clanging pans and no meals being packaged to be shipped and served to seniors across Thurston and Mason Counties.

Under a sign reading “Welcome! Today’s lunch,” hangs a poster explaining there will be no lunch.

Senior Services for South Sound has stopped serving meals on Mondays at the Community Dining Site in Olympia after a grant from the Community Investment Partnership came in $25,000 lower than originally requested. Senior Services is now turning to the community in hopes that people will donate to help reopen the dining center and restore other services.

The organization also stopped taking most applicants for the Meals on Wheels program as of July 9 due to increased demand, instead putting those who request the service on a waiting list. About nine people are on the list.

“What you have is it just pulling at the thread of the fabric of support that we have for our seniors,” Executive Director Eileen McKenzieSullivan said.

The organization learned in July that the Community Investment Partnership had allocated $12,000 rather than the requested $37,000. About $9,000 of that was pulled from the meal budget.

“For the individuals themselves it means not getting together with their friends one day a week and not having a nutritious meal,” McKenzieSullivan said.

The Community Investment Partnership, a grant-giving collaboration pooling the money of Thurston County’s three largest cities and the United Way, received about $1.7 million in requests for funding but had about half as much to give away, United Way spokeswoman Michelle Rodriguez said.

“It’s kind of the usual problem we have as a non-profit,” she said. “We can’t grant them the full amount as they’re asking for.”

Senior Services prepares and serves about 110,000 meals every year between the two programs in Mason and Thurston counties, said Jolene Black, spokeswoman for the organization.

That means seniors like Cornelia Jerviss have at least one healthy meal every day. A heart attack in February made it difficult for the 74-year-old Olympia resident to cook for herself, so she signed up to receive Meals on Wheels.

Jerviss, who lives alone, said the meals are easy to make and nutritious, and she enjoys chatting with volunteers when they come to visit.

“You have the elderly on fixed incomes who can’t do it themselves,” Jerviss said.

This isn’t the first year Senior Services has fallen on hard times. The organization’s budget was cut during 2013’s federal sequestration, and those dollars have not been replaced, McKenzieSullivan said.

In addition to closing the cafeteria on Mondays, one staff person’s hours were cut and the adult day-care program may also face cuts.

“Best case is someone has $9,000 to give us,” McKenzieSullivan said, laughing.