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County seeks new provider for senior meals
senior meals pic1
Howard Training Center has been providing meals for senior citizens at sites like Turlocks Salvation Army for 11 years. The Ceres nonprofit will no longer provide the service after June 30 and the county is seeking organizations to take over the program. - photo by Journal file photo

For the last 11 years, Howard Training Center has produced lunches for 20,000 senior citizens a month across Stanislaus County through the Elderly Nutrition and Meals on Wheels programs. The county’s Area Agency on Aging is now seeking new program providers, however, as the Ceres nonprofit has given notice that it will not be renewing its contract for another year.

Jill Erickson, program manager with the Area Agency on Aging, said that the county will be putting out a request for proposals to operate the senior meals congregate site program and the home meal delivery service. But there will be a short turnaround time. HTC’s contract ends June 30.

The RFP will be broken down into different service areas across the county and multiple organizations could fill the need. Last year a RFP was put out and Howard Training Center was the only organization to submit a bid.

“We need some local, community heroes,” said Erickson.

Currently, HTC rents space from the Salvation Army Tuesday through Friday to serve lunches to seniors in Turlock. That lunch site will probably change, however, when a new meal provider is found, said Erickson.

Starting in April, the Turlock Gospel Mission will be providing lunches for senior citizens Monday through Friday as part of a pilot project. TGM is working with Erickson to create a menu of nutritious and delicious low-sodium meals that will be prepared in the mission’s brand new commercial kitchen at 437 S. Broadway. There is no cost for the meal, however, donations will be accepted to help defray costs.

TGM Executive Director Christian Curby said that the senior meals pilot project is a continuation of the kinds of services the mission wants to provide to the community.

“Food and hunger are at the very core of providing the kind of stability needed to thrive in other areas. Seniors in our community will have that opportunity for at least one meal a day,” said Curby.

Curby said that when TGM agreed to the pilot project, they didn’t know that HTC would be bowing out of the countywide program. He said the mission is considering whether or not to bid for the contract to provide meals for seniors on a permanent, regular basis.

“I think to a large degree, the outcomes we find with the pilot project will somewhat drive our decision to move forward with the RFP,” he said.

HTC Executive Director Carla Strong said the organization’s decision to cease providing the senior meals was due to new demands of the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act of 2016.

Strong said the federal act is resulting in traditional “sheltered workshops” for training disabled adults being eliminated across the country and replaced by new programs that aim squarely for competitive-integrated employment for clients.

She noted that the new focus on independent and integrated employment is a “big, industry wide challenge.”

“For us it’s going to mean completely revamping all of our programs to survive and we’re going to do that – but we’re excited,” said Strong.

Strong said her industry has known the changes were coming two years ago but stands by her view that the law may be well intentioned but feels it “didn’t take all of the population into consideration.”

One dramatic change will lead HTC away from its role as a provider for senior meals. HTC’s commercial kitchen north of Hatch Road will be developed into a Culinary Academy offering training for all steps from cooking to “front of the house” skills with a complete curriculum.

“We are looking at the plans for starting our own culinary school. That is the easiest for us to convert because we have the large kitchen. It’s a unique opportunity for the adults that are in our programs to gain employment in the competitive workforce,” she said.

Howard Training Center has trained adults with disabilities in vocational and life skills for 65 years.  Through a 22-year contract with Caltrans HTC, clients provide maintenance for the rest stops along Highway 99 south of Turlock and along I-5 in Westley and also provide gardening, trimming and clean-up for the major thoroughfares of the city of Ceres. With those clients now placed into “independent placement,” and considered employees of HTC, they are paid minimum-wage as they clean all three HTC facilities.

Approximately 30 clients work in the Mary Stuart Rogers Commercial Kitchen on the Stonum Road campus and have produced the Senior Meals for Stanislaus County for the last 11 years.

Organizations who may be interested in bidding for the senior meals program can contact Erickson at 525-4611.

Turlock senior citizens interested in the lunch program to be offered at the Turlock Gospel Mission can call 656-1033 for more information.

— Jeff Benziger contributed to this report.