East Central Community Center has qualified for a $114,000 annual USDA food program grant allowing the center to expand its senior meal program, as well as the meal program offered for youth in the summer.
“This grant has allowed us to feed significantly more people at the same out-of-pocket cost to the center,” said Landon Carrell, East Central Community Center’s business manager.
The community center hired chef Aron Larson, and the center’s professional kitchen, which was sitting mostly unused, is now being used to prepare the meals.
Senior meals were previously delivered by Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels, and Carrell said the switch to making meals in house is in no way a reflection on that service.
“We needed more flexibility than having a certain number of meals delivered every day,” Carrell said. “We needed a new and bigger program. We have kind of graduated.”
Seniors, who pay a $10 monthly fee to join the senior program, now have access to breakfast, a snack and lunch every weekday. Breakfast was first served April 11, and Carrell said he expects to see lots of people in the morning as the word gets out.
Marilynn Fuller, 65, said she lives right around the corner and has been coming for senior lunch for some time.
“I will absolutely be here for breakfast,” Fuller said, adding that she likes the lunch that’s being made in house. “It’s fresh and it seems more balanced than what we used to get.”
Her friend Beulah Townsend, 93, agrees.
“I’ve been coming here every weekday since it opened in 2008,” Townsend said. “The new lunches are very good.” She planned on joining her friends for breakfast as well.
Having Larson in the kitchen is going to make a big difference for children in the center’s summer programs. In previous years, the center relied on bagged lunches delivered by Spokane Public Schools to feed day campers. That worked fine, except for the days when more children than planned showed up.
“We don’t turn anyone away so there were days where we had to run out and get pizza,” Carrell said. “It just wasn’t working well for us.”
The new grant means children 18 and younger now will be able to get breakfast, lunch and a snack at the center, instead of just a bagged lunch.
“The moment school is out we are in there with the food program,” Carrell said.
The youth meal program is free.
The kitchen needed no remodeling before it was put to full use.
“We are trying to raise $18,000 for a walk-in freezer and cooler,” Carrell said, “but other than that it was ready to go.” Larson said he expects the kitchen can produce 300 meals daily.
Matt West, interim athletic program manager, is in charge of the summer youth programming. He said that an estimated 65 percent of children in East Central live under the poverty level.
“We see such a big need here in our neighborhood,” West said. “Being able to feed the kids well is a big deal.”
He hopes to be able to incorporate vegetable growing and cooking classes in this summer’s Camp Ben Burr.
“We couldn’t do that if we didn’t have a working kitchen here,” West said.
Carrell said the grant is part of the USDA food program and now that East Central Community Center has qualified the funding will continue every year.