A stunned group of Sunnyside senior diners having lunch via the Older American Nutrition Program learned last Friday afternoon that their site manager, Leslie Deardorff, has been let go due to budget cuts.
The nutrition program, run by People for People, provides lost-cost lunches to area seniors served each weekday except Wednesday at the senior center. About 40 seniors get a meal each day for a suggested donation of $2.50.
Before the meal, Deardorff broke the news to the group, who sat in shocked silence after the announcement. Deardorff had volunteered at the senior center for three years before getting the position as manager on the first of December in 2011.
Diner Pat Maynard said Deardorff is highly respected by the seniors who attend the meal.
"She's put in a lot of work," said Maynard. "And once she took over she got no help. She was the main volunteer helper and no one replaced her."
Debbie Sugden at People For People said the program is struggling to get by with less money due to cuts in aging and long-term care funds at the state level.
"We are keeping the sites open at the same hours," she said. "We're trying to work with less funding. We've had to make other cuts, but the sites will stay open."
Deardorff will be replaced in Sunnyside with the site manager from Grandview, Terri Fischer. Grandview, which had a manager and a cook, will merge the two positions.
The food for Sunnyside will continue to be cooked in Grandview and transported to the Sunnyside Senior Center for the meals.
The nutrition program was run by the county until July of 2011, when People For People took over the Senior Nutrition and Meals on Wheels of Yakima programs. Sunnyside seniors appreciate having the program available.
"For me, it's having a complete meal," said Frances Potts.
"It's home away from home for us," said Maynard. "This is my haven."
People For People is always looking for more volunteers to help with the nutrition program.
"We need volunteer drivers in the Lower Valley for meals," said Sugden. "We would like to be able to deliver hot meals to seniors instead of frozen meals they have to prepare or have family prepare for them."
For more information on volunteering or about the meal program in general, contact Debbie Sugden or Jerry Baldoz at 509-426-2601 or toll free at 855-426-2601.