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Little funds, big hearts help sustain Scappoose Meals on Wheels program

DARRYL SWAN - Scappoose Senior Center chef Scott Kreitman (left) and employee Craig McKay package Reuben sandwiches and tater tots as part of the center's Meals on Wheels program. Kreitman said the center, on a busy day, prepares up to 70 meals.

On a Tuesday morning, the Scappoose Senior Center’s kitchen is abuzz as a small, mostly volunteer staff prepares about 70 meals from scratch. By 10 a.m., meals are packaged individually, with more than half being sent out with volunteer drivers for the center’s Meals on Wheels program.

Meals are delivered five days a week to the city’s seniors who are disabled or don’t have transportation. The entire operation depends on the fundraising efforts and hard work of senior center staff and volunteers.

Later that Tuesday, men and women congregate at a round table for a game of pinochle after having lunch in the dining hall. The following morning, dawn marks the start of the commute into Portland, as a handful of volunteer drivers pick up excess inventory from area bakeries that gets donated or sold for small donations at the senior center’s bread store.

Each weekday, the senior center is utilized by dozens of seniors, but it’s more than just a meeting space or meal delivery service.

The center’s executive director, Julie Stephens, said the facility is bridging a gap in services for many Scappoose residents.

“When we deliver the meals, we don’t just knock on the door and drop it on the doorstep,” she said. “We go in, we talk to them, we make sure they’re doing OK.”

Stephens has worked for the Scappoose Senior Center for 16 years. She said many of the people who receive Meals on Wheels deliveries don’t have anybody visiting them, or are away from their caretakers much of the day. Some are bedridden.

“We are the eyes,” she said. “Oftentimes, we have seen or heard where they need additional help, and we’re able to step in and help.”

She said volunteer drivers have arrived to find meal recipients fallen, hurt, or in need of immediate assistance.

A study conducted by Brown University’s Center for Gerontology and Healthcare Research suggests seniors who rely on Meals on Wheels are significantly more vulnerable than those who don’t need the program.

The study indicates 87 percent of seniors who request Meals on Wheels deliveries are physically unable to shop for groceries. Respondents also reported depression and anxiety, as well as health and mobility issues.

In addition to serving and delivering meals five days a week, the senior center’s bread shop serves thousands each month, and its medical equipment lending program helps get needed items such as canes, wheelchairs, walkers and other essentials to seniors who need them.

Meals on Wheels is a national program, but it’s paid for almost entirely by the organizations that carry it out.

“People think we run because the federal government or the county or the city funds us and keeps us going,” Stephens said. “That is not how it works. We are self-sustaining. That’s why we do the thrift store, bingo every Monday and Friday night, we sell quilts ... any fundraising we do, including the Mayor’s Ball, is used to support the center.”

Meals are served to seniors regardless of a person’s ability to pay. The center accepts a suggested $4 donation for senior meals, but it also serves the general public for just $5 a meal.

This year marks the Scappoose Senior Center’s 45th anniversary. Stephens and her volunteers are preparing for the annual Meals on Wheels fundraiser, which recently underwent a name change to avoid confusion.

“It used to be called the Mayor’s Ball, but some people thought it was a political event, so now we’ve been calling it the Meals on Wheels Ball,” Stephens explained.

Scappoose Mayor Scott Burge has been an ardent supporter of the event.

“I have supported the event because it helps an important program the senior center provides,” Burge said. “Anytime I can help I will.”

This year’s ball takes place April 4 and includes a happy hour, dinner, a silent auction, music and dancing, and a live auction. Despite its name change, the mayor of Scappoose still attends, as do some of the county’s other elected officials.