OCEANSIDE (KGTV): A program that offers daily, hot meals to seniors in Oceanside is running out of money and could be forced to close.
"It’s stressful, it’s super stressful," says Sylvia Spears, the Executive Director of the Oceanside Senior Citizens Association. "I've had sleepless nights, and I’m trying to figure out who do we pay, who do we not pay?"
The program gives seniors a hot lunch every day at the Oceanside Senior Citizens Center. For people who can't make it, they also offer home delivery. For a lot of the seniors, it's the only hot meal and the only personal interaction they get all day.
"We become friends," says Patricia Bonynge, who's been coming to the meals for almost ten years. "Even though we don’t go to each other’s homes or talk on the phone, we come here, and we converse."
Bonynge also used the home delivery service for a few months after she had foot surgery and couldn't drive or walk. She says it was a lifeline while she recovered.
Spears says the program serves around 50,000 meals every year. That number continues to grow as Americans live longer.
"Clients are up; donations are down," she says.
Right now, the meals are partially funded through a grant from the County. It's part of the Federal "Older Americans Act." The grant is a three-year contract, which expires on December 31st, 2018.
But this year, Spears says she decided not to reapply because he hasn't been able to come up with enough money to cover the rest of the budget.
"Right now we need about 15,000 dollars extra per month to keep going," she says. "That includes our food, kitchen supplies and our trucks."
Other organizations, like Meals on Wheels, could step in to fill the gap. Spears is also talking to the City of Oceanside for funding. There's a closed-session City Council meeting Wednesday night to address the issue.
The city already lets the Association rent the Senior Center facilities and kitchen for $1 per year. They also work with the San Diego Food Bank to do a monthly food box distribution for seniors who qualify.
Despite that, city officials say they realize how important the hot meal program is to older residents.
"It gives them hope," says City Recreation Supervisor Homer Post. "That hope is what allows them to live until the next day. If you don’t take care of your elderly, you can’t take care of anything that you got going on."
Spears is hopeful that someone will come through with a donation to keep the meals going. She says cash or check donations can be made in person at the Senior Citizens Center, or sent by mail (with "Nutrition Program" noted) to 455 Country Club Lane, Oceanside, CA 92054.