Fayetteville senior center's kitchen getting an upgrade

Posted: October 30, 2017 at 1 a.m.

Barry Thomas, food service manager at the Fayetteville Senior Activity and Wellness Center, tours the new kitchen equipment at the center Wednesday. The center is undergoing a kitchen renovation to better serve its clients. The center has nearly 200 residents enrolled in its Meals on Wheels program with about 100 more who regularly visit the center for meals.

FAYETTEVILLE -- About the start of the year, 88-year-old Junior Leon Porter fell three times while trying to make a pot of stew. His neck, in a brace, is still healing.

So is his heart after his wife, Lora, died in March.

Ozarks Cares

The senior center on Wednesday received a $15,000 check from Ozarks Electric for its Meals on Wheels program. The gift represented donations Ozarks employees made to the cooperative’s charitable campaign, Ozarks Cares, according to a news release.

Cayla Wilson, senior center director, had just come back from vacation. She said she had no idea the check was coming. Staff said they wanted to surprise her.

Employees at the cooperative nominate charitable organizations or programs and vote on the recipients, Mitch Styles, education and community outreach coordinator with Ozarks Electric, said in the news release.

Source: Staff report

Porter says the Meals on Wheels program has helped him immensely.

"I've always been just an ol' fuddy dud -- I didn't need no help," he said, adding he wasn't sure about the program at first. The program's volunteers quickly won him over.

The Senior Activity and Wellness Center at 945 S. College Ave. is using $245,000 in Community Development Block Grant money to expand and renovate its kitchen, in addition to $85,000 for new appliances and equipment. The center also received a $25,000 Walmart Foundation grant for the project.

Cayla Wilson, center director, said more and more seniors have signed up for Meals on Wheels in her five years on the job. The staff started feeling the effects of a cramped kitchen and aging appliances.

Nearly 200 seniors in the city receive Meals on Wheels. Another 60 to 100 walk into the center daily for a bite to eat. More than 4,000 home-delivered meals came out of that kitchen in September, as well as about 1,700 in-center meals, Wilson said.

"I'm looking at the big picture," she said. "Another five years down the road, we may be up to -- who knows?"

Eight other Meals on Wheels programs operate out of Farmington, Springdale, Elkins, Prairie Grove, Winslow, Lincoln and Rogers, according to the Meals on Wheels America website. Rogers has two programs; one that serves Benton County and another serving Benton, Carroll and Madison counties.

Springdale's senior center got a bigger walk-in freezer a few years ago but doesn't have plans to further renovate the kitchen, Director Lori Proud said. The other programs haven't had any kitchen renovations in recent years.

Just more than a dozen staff members have been going strong while construction crews with Ellingson Contracting have hammered and chiseled the kitchen, with the center's four full-time employees managing everything. Barry "Kingpin" Thomas, kitchen manager, said his years at the now-closed James at the Mill and Muley's restaurants helped him adapt to just about any situation.

"You play the hand you're dealt with. That's part of the thing, is figuring it out," he said. "In any kitchen you want everything to come out and be ready at the same time."

The two-phase project should wrap by the end of the year. The expansion will add 800 square feet to the 1,200-square-foot kitchen. Work includes the concrete, framing, roofing, exterior finish, plumbing and electrical wiring for the expansion, as well as a new walk-in, grease duct and hood, drywall, painting, light fixtures, a drink bar and restroom for staff.

Wilson said at some point the center will need another truck to deliver Meals on Wheels food. It has two now; other meals are delivered in the personal vehicles of volunteers.

One of those volunteers, Larry Altman, said the center has maintained a smooth operation since the renovation work began more than a year ago. Drivers come in, check the log, pack up the food and head out on their routes.

Altman, 65, wanted to do something worthwhile in retirement even with 26 years in the Air Force under his belt. He thought of his 95-year-old Aunt Ruby who practically raised him.

"I thought it would keep me off the golf course," Altman said. "I was feeling a little guilty."

Community Development Block Grant money can be used to reimburse cities for work done on projects related to seniors. Once the federal money is used, it frees up the city's money for other projects. In total, about $430,000 worth of work has been done to the senior center.

The extra work includes exterior drainage, replacing roof tiles, an exterior stucco wall, gutters and extra parking.

Seniors fit the program criteria to assist low- to moderate-income residents because a majority are on a fixed income, which usually isn't much, said Yolanda Fields, community resources director.

"We're all going to get to that stage of our lives," she said. "We need to be thinking about the folks who are already there, and what we want in place when we get there."

NW News on 10/30/2017