OCEANSIDE — The Oceanside Senior Citizens Association, a nonprofit organization providing meals and transportation to seniors since 1975, is slated to end operations on Dec. 28.
Staff and volunteers at Oceanside Senior Citizens Association cook about 200 meals a day for seniors in Oceanside. Clients of the organization can either eat at the Country Club Senior Center, where the organization operates, or have their meals delivered to them.
The nonprofit also has a shuttle service for clients, and will take them to Walmart twice a month for groceries.
According to Executive Director Sylvia Spears, Oceanside Senior Citizens Association is the No. 1 organization of its kind in North County and No. 3 in San Diego County as a whole for delivering home meals.
Oceanside Senior Citizens Association has been struggling to keep afloat for some time. The organization is partially funded by the county as well as a mix of grants, fundraisers and donations. Spears said client numbers are up but donations are down.
Spears said she has also asked the city for help. Most recently, Spears asked the city for $15,000 to pay bills, vendors, its 11 employees, maintenance and any other operating costs to help get the organization through the next month. She also asked for new convection ovens for its kitchen.
The city ended up giving the organization $7,500 and two stoves rather than convection ovens, according to Spears. Although Spears said she is grateful for the city’s help, it just isn’t enough to keep the organization open longer.
Oceanside Neighborhood Services Director Margery Pierce said the city purchased two “commercial-grade ovens,” a more than $3,000 purchase, and gave OSCA $7,500 to make sure food was on the table for seniors. She explained OSCA required a total of $50,000 to pay $30,000 in back payroll taxes and another $20,000 for vehicle repairs and to pay vendors, and that the city agreed to only help with the cost of meals.
Oceanside Senior Citizens Association also couldn’t afford to qualify for the county’s new nutrition program contract. Spears said the new contracts required background checks for all employees and volunteers, which the organization has never had to do before and couldn’t afford to do without the city’s help.
The new contract also required programs to have $50,000 in reserve money in case of emergency, which Spears said the organization doesn’t have.
Pierce said the background checks could be taken care of if they were processed through the city’s Parks and Recreation Division. She also told Spears to ask the county if the city could put money in reserve for the organization.
The county offered Oceanside Senior Citizens Association a six-month extension, but the organization had to turn it down because it couldn’t afford to stay open that long with what it has now.
The organization also asked the city to take over responsibility for kitchen equipment, Spears said, which would require renegotiating its property use agreement. She said the city terminated the property use agreement as of Dec. 28 instead. which is when the organization is to close. Pierce said the city would extend the property use agreement, ending effective Dec. 31, if the county granted her an extension.
Spears has been reassured by the city that there won’t be a gap in services and that the city has a “plan and backup plan,” though she doesn’t know what those plans are yet. She also said she was asked to stay and help if both of those plans fall through.
“I’m at a loss for words,” she said. “It’s very frustrating trying to figure out what the city’s doing.”
Spears, who has worked for Oceanside Senior Citizens Association for 11 years, said she is most worried about its home delivery clients.
“For some of these seniors, this is the only meal that they get and the only interaction they have with another person (per day),” she said.
The seniors are also worried, she added, but the city doesn’t want anyone to be worried about losing the services Oceanside Senior Citizens Association provides.
“We are committed to ensuring that the program continues and all participants have access to these vital services,” said Mark Olson, manager of Oceanside’s Parks and Recreation Division.
Olson said the city is currently exploring its options to keep the program running, but nothing is official. He noted it could take time to find a permanent solution, but emphasized that there would be no gap in services before then.
“This is a vital service,” he said. “We don’t want anyone to feel unsure or uneasy about losing it.”
Pierce said the city is talking to other non-profit senior meal providers who have contracts with the county about potentially absorbing the Oceanside program into their operations.
Last spring, Pierce said, City Council set aside $100,000 to repair the center’s kitchen. Until it’s decided who the new provider will be, the city will wait to use those funds in case the new provider doesn’t need the kitchen.
Other options seniors have include Meals on Wheels San Diego County or Meals with Love, the latter of which is based in Vista but also serves Oceanside.
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son