Federal funding cuts hit Coon Rapids senior dining program

Five days a week for more than three decades, local seniors have been able to enjoy a nutritious noontime meal at the Coon Rapids Senior Center through the Coon Rapids Senior Dining program.

Due to reduced federal funding, Coon Rapids Senior Dining lunch will no longer be served Fridays at Coon Rapids Senior Center. Here, Coon Rapids firefighters serve lunch to seniors dining at the senior center Nov. 12.

Due to reduced federal funding, Coon Rapids Senior Dining lunch will no longer be served Fridays at Coon Rapids Senior Center. Here, Coon Rapids firefighters serve lunch to seniors dining at the senior center Nov. 12. 
File photo by Sue Austreng

But now, because of reduced federal funding, effective Feb. 1 meals will no longer be served on Fridays at the senior center.

“Sequestration and a cap on nutritional funds has caused a large hole in our budget which we will be working hard to close,” said Nancy Christianson, Volunteers of America director of nutrition, in an email to Coon Rapids Senior Center staff. Volunteers of America operates the senior dining program.

Another result of the reduced funding has the center asking for a donation of $4 per meal, compared with the requested $3.50 donation previously asked.

“However, no eligible person will be denied a meal because of an inability to contribute,” said Coon Rapids Senior Services Program Specialist Kris Niebler.

Seniors are declared “eligible” based on need and seniors must have a NAPIS (National Aging Program Information System) form on file with Coon Rapids Senior Services in order to be served.

That form asks participants questions regarding income, nutrition habits and daily activities.

“It tracks who is participating in the program and steers the organization toward serving the neediest people,” Niebler said.

Niebler and the Volunteers of America team serving the meals in Coon Rapids have seen a decrease in participation over the years. In 1998, an average of 50 seniors participated in the meal program each day. Last year, that number fell to 32 – an all-time low, Niebler said.

Decreased participation is a national trend, she said, attributing that decrease to a combination of factors: more convenience foods sold at grocery stores, more senior living facilities providing on-site meals and more restaurants being built.

According to Niebler, Coon Rapids Senior Services sees this change in senior dining services as an “opportunity to be creative.”

“While the Coon Rapids Senior Center is disappointed to see this program discontinued on Fridays, we will take this opportunity to find some alternative activities to take its place,” Niebler said.

“For example on Fridays we might offer more ladies teas, concerts or speakers that draw large crowds. We could even use the (Coon Rapids Senior Center) kitchen for cooking classes or cookie baking.”

“A change like this in our programming – even when it isn’t a change that we want – gives us an opportunity to be creative, innovative and find other activities that meet the needs of our senior population.”

For more information about senior dining and Coon Rapids Senior Services, call 763-767-6473 or visit www.ci.coon-rapids.mn.us/Senior/index.htm.

Or just stop by. The senior center is located at the Coon Rapids Civic Center at 11155 Robinson Dr. and is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Sue Austreng is at
sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

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