Cranston Center to serve up Warwick senior meals
In an arrangement officials said will have statewide benefits while maintaining local character, Cranston will provide meals for the Pilgrim Senior Center in Warwick through an agreement signed by the mayors of both cities last week.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs an exciting day. We‚Äôve been talking for several years about how we can get some consolidation and collaboration on services, and this is a good start,‚ÄĚ said Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, sitting alongside Cranston Mayor Allan Fung at the Cranston Senior Services building during the Feb. 14 announcement and signing ceremony.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs been a long time that we‚Äôve had discussions about better ways to collaborate and work together to benefit both of our residents, so today‚Äôs a great day,‚ÄĚ said Fung.
WestBay Community Action, for a number of years, has prepared meals at Pilgrim, both for that center and other facilities in the state. Warwick officials learned several weeks ago that the agency plans to subcontract the meal program to an outside catering company, meaning meals would no longer be prepared at Pilgrim as of Feb. 28.
Avedisian said as a result, Warwick reached out to Cranston regarding the feasibility of having meals prepared at the latter city‚Äôs senior center, which already provides food for 29 sites across the state. He said officials felt it would be preferable for Warwick‚Äôs seniors to have meals prepared ‚Äú10 minutes up the road‚ÄĚ rather than through an out-of-state contractor, particularly given the Cranston facility‚Äôs current capabilities and reputation for quality.
‚ÄúIt gave us an opportunity to look at lots of different options,‚ÄĚ he said.
Avedisian said Warwick will pick up the meals in Cranston and deliver them to Pilgrim. The city will see the benefit of reduced ‚Äúwear and tear‚ÄĚ and maintenance costs for the center‚Äôs kitchen, he said.
Additionally, the recent retirement of the Warwick center‚Äôs kitchen manager has allowed for a restructuring in which administrative duties have shifted, and a WestBay employee who worked at the site has been hired as Warwick‚Äôs new kitchen manager to oversee the program and work with Cranston‚Äôs staff.
Avedisian also said his previous discussions with Fung about potential collaboration, and the recent appointment of former Warwick councilwoman Susan Stenhouse as Cranston‚Äôs executive director of senior services, made the new arrangement particularly appealing and led to an agreement being reached quickly.
‚ÄúThis whole notion of having the right people at the right time to pull this all together really worked for us,‚ÄĚ he said.
Fung welcomed Warwick ‚Äúinto the family,‚ÄĚ and praised the work of Ray Sinapi, chef and director of the Cranston center‚Äôs nutrition division, and his staff to prepare a ‚Äúhealthy, nutritious lunch‚ÄĚ for seniors. Cranston‚Äôs center prepares an average of 1,100 meals each day.
‚ÄúRay and his staff do a lot of wonderful things serving meals throughout the state of Rhode Island,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúThey have an excellent, excellent menu every single day.‚ÄĚ
Catherine Taylor, director of the state‚Äôs Division of Elderly Affairs, was on hand for the announcement and signing ceremony, and praised the two communities for working together.
‚ÄúWarwick and Cranston have two of the highest populations of elders in the state ‚Ä¶ so this collaboration is really huge,‚ÄĚ she said.
Taylor said federal budget cuts under sequestration have significantly impacted senior services, and she spoke of the partnership between Cranston and Warwick as a model in terms of maximizing available resources while maintaining the ‚Äúlocal character and responsiveness‚ÄĚ of meal sites.
‚ÄúFederal sequestration has hit senior nutrition really hard throughout the state, and nutrition providers are doing what they can to tighten their belts,‚ÄĚ she said.
Since the meals program is federally funded, Taylor said, Warwick‚Äôs agreement with Cranston will allow the Pilgrim center‚Äôs former provider to utilize resources elsewhere, while Cranston is well positioned to provide the additional meals.
‚ÄúI think it‚Äôs a win-win for everyone in the state ‚Ä¶ We want as many meals as possible to happen even though we have a set amount of money,‚ÄĚ she said.
Taylor said finding such ways to strengthen meals programs is critical, given the vital role they play for seniors in terms of overall health.
‚ÄúThis program is one of the chief ones we have to combat isolation,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúThis is the best thing that seniors can do for themselves in terms of their health and independence, is to come into a center and eat a good meal.‚ÄĚ
Officials said Cranston‚Äôs meals program is administered by Blackstone Health, which is a division of VNA of Care New England. The program utilizes federal funds provided through the state‚Äôs Division of Elderly Affairs under Title III C of the federal Older Americans Act.¬†
Meals are provided five days a week to those 60 and older, regardless of income, as well as to those with disabilities.¬† Participants are asked to make a voluntary contribution of $3 per meal, but no one is turned away.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs rewarding to know that we have had a hand in providing a healthy, balanced and nutritious meal for seniors, many of whom would have gone without,‚ÄĚ said Sinapi.
Fung and Avedisian said their communities would explore new ways to collaborate going forward.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre always looking for any type of way that we can work better for all of our residents,‚ÄĚ said Fung.
Stenhouse cited her discussions with Fung about pursuing such arrangements, and noted that Cranston‚Äôs senior center, which recently marked its 25th anniversary, has been innovative in its approach to elder services.
‚ÄúThis whole building has a legacy of being the first of its kind in putting all of the senior services under one roof,‚ÄĚ she said. ‚ÄúThis is a very, very comprehensive model that started 25 years ago ‚Ä¶ This is like the next step in that legacy.‚ÄĚ
Others who were present for the announcement included Meg Underwood, director of Warwick‚Äôs Department of Senior Services; Holly Weber, manager of the Pilgrim Senior Center; Carlos Lopez, Fung‚Äôs chief of staff; Alyssa Joyce, the nutritionist at Blackstone; and Nancy Roberts, director, Blackstone Health/Care New England.