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LOEL Center and seniors it serves need your help

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Posted: Wednesday, July 9, 2008 10:00 pm

OK. I'll admit it. As a LOEL Foundation Board member, I am a little biased. But only a little.

LOEL Center and Gardens is a jewel in our community. And that statement is born out of fact, not bias. But I'm afraid that most who live here don't understand what LOEL is.

Woefully, we lack name recognition. I have some justification for my concern. A few months back, the LOEL Foundation Board voted to have an outside firm conduct a feasibility study.

Feasi-who?

As the number of seniors in our community increase, thanks to the baby boomers, there is more demand for social programs at LOEL. But, the center is busting at the seams. The kitchen is woefully inadequate and there aren't enough rooms to hold all the functions our seniors would like to schedule. As a board, we've been considering the feasibility of expanding the center and updating our kitchen to accommodate in-house preparation of meals being prepared by another agency in Stockton. This is no small undertaking. The expansion of the center has a price tag of approximately $5 million and the kitchen renovation is a mere $500,000. So before we launched blindly into such a big project, we wanted to know the thoughts of the community. And the feasibility study indicated that many of Lodi's residents don't know who we are or what we do.

And in our current situation, this can be a real problem. I'll explain more about our current situation in a bit.

LOEL Center and Gardens, located on Washington Street, is a center for seniors. Founded by William Holz in the 1970s, it has grown into a center that serves the needs of Lodi's seniors through social programs such as crafts, exercise and karaoke People come to play cards, watch movies and visit with their peers. The center also distributes meals to homebound seniors in our community - known as Meals-on-Wheels - as well as meals to those visiting the center for a total of nearly 200 meals per day during the week. And more recently, the issue of affordable senior housing has been addressed with the acquisition of 16 safe and clean units available to low-income seniors for which we have a waiting list.

Let me dispel a myth. It is true that Mr. Holz left an endowment to secure the continuing operation of LOEL after his death. However, that endowment doesn't leave us so flush with cash that we can simply draw from it at will. It has been carefully managed over the years and covers most of our daily operating expenses, but not the "extras" such as vans to deliver meals or expansion of the center, or making a kitchen whole so that we can administer our own Meals-On-Wheels program.

And what about our meals program? Well, it's long been our dream to be able to bring the Meals-On-Wheels program in-house. That move would give us greater control over the day-to-day operation of the program. Because meals had always been prepared by an outside agency in Stockton, we were often left with the quandary of having seniors that needed meals, but being restricted by the agency as to how many seniors we could serve. Or the meals were late. Or the meals were repetitive. Recently, the rug was pulled out from under us when the agency responsible for making meals that LOEL delivers every day to homebound seniors in our community, unexpectedly closed their doors.

You get the picture.

We thought we had time to continue to plan, to continue to look at ways to raise funds to bring our kitchen up to snuff and possibly expand the center to accommodate all our new friends. But the luxury of time is suddenly not available to us.

Our "situation" is a serious one.

LOEL is blessed to be located in a community that is known for helping its own. We've got some short-term commitments from community members to help us with our immediate goal of ensuring that no senior in need goes unfed.

But what about the long-term? We need a new kitchen if we're going to move forward with the responsibility of planning, cooking and delivering our own meals. It's a huge endeavor and we're committed to gaining control of this program so that we're not at the mercy of another agency that doesn't have a vested interest in our community. As a result, our planned kitchen construction schedule is going to have to be moved up and LOEL could certainly use the help of the community now.

How can you help, especially in these financially difficult times? Well, I may have some suggestions.

Make a donation pledge. Make a commitment to donate a certain amount on a one-time basis or on a weekly, monthly and annual basis. Your dollars add up.

Businesses and service organizations can "adopt" LOEL. Your employees and club members can have fund raising drives of your own in support of our kitchen expansion needs.

Attend our annual fund-raiser. Slated for August 9, our annual Casino Night is a fun-filled event enjoyed by people of ALL ages. Games of skill, including a Poker Tournament and Wine Toss, entertain the crowd. And for those who like to shop, well, the silent auction and raffle area meets those needs. And the food served during the event is amazing. Already have something else planned for August 9? Then you could donate items to be raffled or auctioned off.

Bequests can be made to LOEL when planning for the disbursement of your estate.

And finally, are you a United Way donor? You can instruct United Way to direct all your donations to LOEL.

With your help, I have no doubt that no senior in Lodi will ever go hungry. Not ever.

Theresa Larson can be reached at theresal@lodinews.com.

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