2014-03-27 / News

Senior center in midst of changes to its weekday lunches

By Margo Sullivan

Pauline Latham, of Jamestown, enjoys a cup of Italian wedding soup for lunch at the senior center. 
Photo by Margo Sullivan Pauline Latham, of Jamestown, enjoys a cup of Italian wedding soup for lunch at the senior center. Photo by Margo Sullivan At the senior center on Tuesday, Irene Pimental Newsham enjoyed lunch and a little conversation with her friends, Walter Boll, Margaret Soukup and Mattie Southern.

Newsham, who has been coming to the senior center for 30 years, has no qualms about the new food service provider.

“I can’t complain,” she said. “Where else can you get a meal for $3?”

Not everyone, however, is as easy to please. While most of the regulars are happy with the quality of the food, not all are thrilled with the quantity. “It’s a good selection,” Boll said. “The only complaint I have is the amounts are too small.”

At the next table, Pauline Latham led a group of hungry seniors in grace before she tried a bowl of soup. “I don’t care for the new service,” she said. “They give us only lettuce in our salad, and everything is smaller and portioned out.”

Since the beginning of March, Westbay Community Action has stopped providing the meals and subcontracted the food to Lindley Food Service, the same company that for several years has provided Meals on Wheels. The change has been noticed. Portions are strictly measured and smaller than before, according to Ellie Chase and Anne Tighe, members of the senior center’s board of directors. Changes are going to be made, however. Chase said she attended a meeting Friday, and Lindley representatives assured her they would improve the April lunch menu.

“We have to give them a chance,” she said.

Chase said delegates from senior centers in South Kingstown and Westerly also attended the meeting to let the food provider know the soup serving was too small.

To be specific, the bowls of soup served on West Street are 6 ounces.

“That’s not even a cup,” Chase said.

Besides the soup and a small carton of milk, residents on Tuesday could order an entree of balsamic glazed chicken or a 3-ounce ham-salad sandwich served with lettuce and tomato. The other day, Chase continued, the menu included a half cup of potatoes and a half cup of vegetables.

“The meat came in little piles,” she said. “There was barely enough.”

Chase turned to staffer Jan Burns and asked if she thought the amounts were “adequate” for the seniors.

Burns said the portions were “very small,” and the staff must measure carefully to avoid running out. A half a cup of vegetables now means exactly one half cup, she said.

Chase let the Town Council know about the changes earlier this month when she attended the March 10 budget workshop. Town health officials requested $71,693 to operate the center in fiscal year 2015, nearly 26.5 percent over the current year’s request. The uptick is a rarity, according to outgoing director Charlotte Richardson. The budget request has not changed since 2006, said Richardson, who retired this week after more than 20 years heading the senior center.

The additional revenue, says Chase, will be used to hire a new director and a part-time driver. Both Tighe and Chase said they want to build up the center, and possibly use the town’s recreation van to bring seniors to West Street for lunch, card games and book discussions.

Operating the senior center this year has already amounted to $37,793. By comparison, the entire expenditure for fiscal year 2013 was $56,693. (All the year-to-date figures have not been audited yet, according to Finance Director Tina Collins.)

The budget increase is not related to the food provider, Chase indicated. The state and federal governments subsidize the lunches, she said, and the price to eat isn’t going up.

The senior center still orders meals from Westbay, according to Burns, but the food is now prepared by Lindley. The staff found out about the change from a truck driver.

“It came as a little bit of a surprise,” said Chase. She believes an overlooked email from Westbay or Lindley may be to blame, which is why Jamestown representatives weren’t privy to a meeting to discuss the switch in food providers.

After learning of the change, Tighe canvassed the state to find an alternate food provider, but none was available. The group decided to stick with the Westbay-Lindley partnership.

Meanwhile, a good lunch remains the center’s fundamental attraction. Doors open at 11 a.m., and seniors have until 1 p.m. to eat. Richardson said the practice is to make reservations one week in advance. Diners can order the daily sandwich – options include a meatball grinder, BLT and Italian grinder – or the day’s entrĂ©e. Choices include beef Stroganoff, eggplant Parmesan and roast pork with raisin sauce.

The hot food arrives in trays, and most of the lunch is already cooked. “We keep it at temperature,” Burns said.

The meals actually cost $7, Chase says, but thanks to public subsidies, the seniors only pay $3.

While some diners were upset about the reduced portions, most didn’t want to complain. Nearly everyone agreed they were getting a tasty lunch at a great price.

“It’s good. Very healthy,” Soukup said. “They give you less gravy, less fat, and the lettuce is very green.”

“It’s beautiful,” said Southern. “Fantastic.”

She also complimented the staff, calling the workers “wonderful, respectful and friendly.”

Soukup said the board members and staff make everyone feel welcome. Chase decorates the hall, and even makes special desserts on a weekly basis.

“It isn’t once a week,” Chase said humbly.

Soukup insisted it was, saying Chase brings desserts once – and sometimes twice – a week.

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