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Sherwood Senior Center may lose county contract

The county Purchasing Department is recommending awarding the contract to Loaves and Fishes Centers
by: Jaime Valdez, FOOD SERVICE – Tom Breen, who volunteers at the Sherwood Senior Center, serves lunch to Sung Lee (left) and Marguerite Poleo on Wednesday.

SHERWOOD - Sherwood Senior Citizens, Inc. the group that manages the Sherwood Senior Center, already in trouble financially, could potentially lose its contract with Washington County to provide free meals to senior citizens in need.

Washington County's purchasing department rebid the contract in June and decided recently to award the $46,894 contract to Loaves and Fishes Centers, a Portland-based nonprofit, nonsectarian organization, said Rod Branyan, the division manager of the county's Health and Human Services Department, which oversees the county's nutrition program.

The Sherwood Senior Center management company has had the county contract for 25 years. The money represents nearly 30 percent of its funding.

'It came as rather a shock that we wouldn't be doing business as usual,' said Peggi Federspiel, executive director of the center. 'But our board has determined we will not be protesting the decision.'

The tentative decision by the county purchasing department still needs to be approved by the county's Board of Commissioners. Originally, they were scheduled to vote on the issue Sept. 5, but Tom Brian, chairman of the board, announced Tuesday evening that the vote was being postponed until the commissioners had more time to consider the issue.

About half a dozen people attended Tuesday night's Board of Commissioners' meeting to protest the purchasing department's decision. They left without comment after Brian made his announcement.

In addition to the Sherwood senior center, the Forest Grove and Hillsboro senior centers are also losing their contracts to Loaves and Fishes. Unlike Sherwood, Forest Grove and Hillsboro are formally against the decision.

'By having the nutrition program here, our doors are open,' said Lucy Warren, the executive director of the Forest Grove center. 'Without the nutrition services here, we can no longer be a place where people come for free.'

Donald Balsiger, board president of Sherwood Senior Citizens, Inc., said he doesn't think the loss of the Washington County contract will affect the services seniors in Sherwood ultimately receive.

The Sherwood Senior Center served 1,945 people last year, according to data from the county's health and human services department. It served a total of 15,300 meals at the center and delivered 5,820 meals to homebound seniors.

'I don't think it's going to disrupt our program that much,' Balsiger said, adding that he thinks Loaves and Fishes will be able to enhance the services by taking over the responsibilities for the meals and leaving the board to focus on other activities.

Still, he admits there are a lot of unknowns. The county contract paid a significant portion of the salaries for two full-time employees and three part-time employees at the center, including Federspiel's position. Without the contract, the board cannot afford to keep them on.

Despite that news, Federspiel said she is optimistic.

'I want this to be a positive thing,' she said. 'The board - their focus will change. They're going to have to reestablish themselves as an organization.'

Federspiel and Balsiger appeared before Sherwood City Council in July to ask for more funding. They said Sherwood contributes less money and fewer resources to its senior center than neighboring communities Tualatin, Tigard, Newberg, Hillsboro and Forest Grove. Council directed staff to begin talks with senior center officials.