Funding -- Loss of county nutrition contract sparks discussion on agency's community role

Now that the Forest Grove Senior Center is no longer responsible for providing free meals, what should its focus be?

That, according to board members of the non-profit organization, is the question they must wrestle with in coming months.

The board members, along with director Lucy Warren, met with the Forest Grove City Council Monday night, and reported that, by most accounts, the transition of the Senior Center's nutrition program to another group earlier this month went smoothly.

"We've always had great volunteers who've done a great job with meals and most of them stepped forward and continued to do a great job," said Warren.

Until two weeks ago, the senior center was responsible for providing free lunches and home-delivered meals in the Forest Grove area. But last month, the Washington County Board of Commissioners decided to give that job to Loaves and Fishes, a Portland-based non-profit that already runs nutrition programs in other parts of the county.

At first, the senior center board protested that decision, but then decided to accept the change and use it as an opportunity to discuss some broader issues.

"We had some difficulties with the way the county presented the proposal," said Eston Field, chairman of the board. "But from what I hear, Loaves and Fishes is making an adequate transition. Our biggest challenge is to answer the question of 'what is our group's mission?'"

He said that the loss of the nutrition contract with the county will be a major hit to the center's revenue stream, but noted that it also will mean a lot of expenses will be shifted to Loves and Fishes.

More important, he noted, the center plays host to a lot of activities in addition to the nutrition program. Some board members have discussed changing the agency's name, to something like the Community Center. "We have to convince the community that the building over there is not where old, frail, poor people go to get a free lunch," Field said.

Warren agreed, saying that the loss of the food contract didn't create new problems as much as it created an urgent need for solving long-standing challenges.

"We've been struggling with funding for a long time. This isn't new," said Warren, whose center, unlike some others in the county, doesn't rely on city funding.

"The public still sees meals as the focal point. We have to change that focal point, and that process will be tied to looking at our mission."

Warren said that process will begin in earnest at the end of the month, when the board next meets.

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