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LOEL Center scrambling to feed seniors after contract is canceled

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Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2008 10:00 pm

Officials from the LOEL Center and Gardens are searching for ways to continue feeding homebound seniors in Lodi, Woodbridge and Acampo now that San Joaquin County's meal provider has canceled its contract. The Lockeford area is served by the county as well, but not under the LOEL Center's umbrella.

"Our ultimate goal is to feed our seniors with no break in service," said Tracy Williams, president and CEO of the LOEL Center in Lodi.

Seniors First, which is contracted with the county to prepare and deliver meals to area seniors, will provide meals for the last time on Friday. Seniors First had been contracted to provide the service through June 30, 2009.

County officials didn't say why Seniors First canceled the contract with the county. Seniors First officials weren't available for comment late Tuesday afternoon.

For a period that Williams hopes will be no more than two weeks, seniors will be given frozen meals. For those without microwave ovens, LOEL personnel will heat the meals before delivering them, she said.

LOEL Center provides 130 meals to homebound seniors between Eight Mile Road and the Sacramento County line, and from Victor west to about Interstate 5, Williams said. The center provides another 55 meals to seniors who visit the center.

On an annual basis, Seniors First has prepared and delivered 77,000 meals to the LOEL Center and 16 other locations throughout the county. In addition, 146,800 meals were also delivered to home-bound seniors.

"This is a huge loss for us," Joe Chelli, the county's human services director, said in a prepared statement. "We have funded Seniors First for over 25 years and have been one of the few remaining agencies to provide hot meals to its senior population."

For some seniors, the Meals on Wheels constitutes the only meal they get each day, and the person delivering the meal is the only person they see, said Theresa Larson, a LOEL Center board member. Larson is also administration director at the News-Sentinel.

Williams said she is talking to Lodi Salvation Army leaders about cooking hot meals in its kitchen.

Funding for the meals is provided through federal Older American Act funds, and from the California state general fund, according to the county. A nonprofit agency, Jene Wah Inc., that provides meals tailored to a Chinese menu, will continue to provide meals.

Representatives from the LOEL Center and other senior nutrition centers will meet with county officials on Thursday. Williams said she hopes to learn a lot more that day.

It may turn out that the LOEL Center may need donations from the community to keep things going, especially if the LOEL board decides to renovate its kitchen to allow meals to be cooked there.

Anyone with questions or is willing to help may call Williams at 369-1591.

"Our board knows that nutrition is No. 1," Williams said. "We are going to do whatever we have to do to make sure our seniors are fed."

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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