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Special day focuses on ACCs meals program

Mayor, two city councilors help take part in delivering food in Lake Oswego
by: Cliff Newell, Lake Oswego’s Mayor Judie Hammerstad, right, had lunch and a friendly greeting for John Hall and Vivian Piper while delivering Meals On Wheels last Wednesday. More and more Lake Oswego senior citizens are taking advantage of this outstanding program of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.

It is not every day that you get lunch delivered to your doorstep by Lake Oswego Mayor Judie Hammerstad.

But that is what happened on Mayors for Meals Day on March 21, when Hammerstad hit the road to deliver meals for the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.

It was a day intended to raise the profile of such programs throughout Clackamas County, and in Lake Oswego the ACC got a big assist from Hammerstad, along with city councilors Donna Jordan and Ellie McPeak.

The word is: The ACC has a great senior meals program and the Lake Oswego public needs to know about it.

'We want to raise our profile and let people out there know this program is here,' said Ruth Berberich, manager of the program. 'This provides a much-needed service.'

Barbara Thompson, chairperson of the Lake Oswego Meal Network Advisory Board, provided some statistics that are pretty mind-boggling. The ACC served 15,000 meals to Lake Oswego seniors in 2006.

The figure for 2007 will only get greater. Thompson noted that 1,190 meals were served in February 2006. In February 2007 that figure jumped to 1,336 meals. This is a program of remarkable value to Lake Oswego senior citizens.

'Meals On Wheels feeds not only the stomach but the soul,' Hammerstad said. 'It is the essence of volunteerism, in that it is a service for the persons being served and the ones who are serving. They both benefit. I was very pleased to be asked to volunteer.'

March 21 was not Jordan's first stint as a volunteer. She was on hand when Lake Oswego's senior meals program first started in 1973 in the basement of Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church.

'It has certainly grown and changed,' Jordan said. 'But I think the service and camaraderie it provides is still terrific.'

Terrific is the description that ACC executive director Brenda Suteu doesn't mind applying to describe the program.

'We've seen a 20 percent increase in home-delivered meals,' Suteu said. 'Our program is superior because our meals are delicious, nutritious, and we watch the content very closely.'

Home-delivered meals are now better than ever, thanks to a new packaging process that allows meals to easily be stacked, frozen and reheated.

Yet excellence comes with a price. The Meal Network Advisory Board has done an outstanding job of lining up donors for the program. Still, organizers must be constantly vigilant about getting more sources of revenue.

That's largely because the figures don't lie. Lake Oswego's senior citizen population is on the rise.

'Our fundraising is good,' Berberich said. 'Through grants, the generosity of businesses like Safeway and Peet's, and civic organizations like Rotary, Lions and churches.

'They make a big dent, but we can always use more.'

'We want this day to make people realize the importance of this program,' Suteu said. 'This is our own, stand-alone program, and our board does nothing but fundraising to keep the program going.'

The ACC's dining hall is always a popular spot for its three-times-a-week lunches. But Meals On Wheels helps the seniors who need the food program the most.

Berberich said, 'Most people we send meals to are unable to come to the ACC. Or anywhere else.'

'Our population is aging and also losing its mobility,' Hammerstad said. 'It's a serious concern. They really need the help of others. This may be the only nutritious meal they get.'

'This program helps senior citizens remain independent,' Jordan said. 'They can stay in their home and still get nutritious meals. This helps people like my parents, who are in their 80s and are fiercely independent.'

Making the current fundraising effort even more crucial is that much of the kitchen equipment has been in use since the 1970s and now needs to be replaced. Thompson estimates this will cost about $30,000. Items needed include a new oven, freezers, steamer and continuous food processor.

The greatest need, though, is people.

'We have wonderful volunteers,' Thompson said. 'But we're always looking for community support. We can always use more drivers and servers.'

Suteu is requesting that Lake Oswego residents keep a key factor in mind in making their donations to the ACC program.

'The Loaves and Fishes program is a good senior meal program. However, they do not operate in Clackamas County,' Suteu said. 'Loaves and Fishes also does not contribute funding (or donations) to Clackamas County senior meals programs, but they have been doing fundraising in Clackamas County.

'I want to see all senior meal programs generously supported wherever they are, but my Lake Oswego Meals On Wheels program needs support, and I believe that Clackamas County donations should go to programs that serve Clackamas County residents.'

Persons desiring to assist the ACC's senior meal programs, either financially or as volunteers, are requested to contact social programs director Berta Derman at 503-534-5757.