At its meeting on March 12, the Sussex County Council was asked to financially support CHEER’s Cooking for Sussex Seniors program.
Ken Bock, chief executive officer for CHEER, spoke to the council about 93-year-old Coast Guard veteran Charles, who is one of nearly 5,000 who rely on CHEER’s Meals on Wheels.
“CHEER has been a part of Sussex County since 1971,” said Bock. “We were founded in Sussex County, and we serve in Sussex County.” CHEER’s mission is to “promote the highest quality of life and independence by developing and providing services that meet the continuing needs of senior citizens 50 and over.”
“Last year, we provided services to over 6,500 separate individuals throughout Sussex County,” said Bock.
In 2018, CHEER’s nutrition program served 4.801 individuals a total of 309,417 meals at locations throughout Sussex County. The organization operates eight senior activity sites and provides meals to two independent senior centers.
“This is only made possible through our volunteers, who are committed and dedicated to making a difference in the lives of people in Sussex County. We appreciate so very much over 450 active volunteers who participate and help make CHEER services possible throughout Sussex County.”
Bock said CHEER’s current kitchen was built in the 1980s. It was renovated in the 1990s, but the original equipment was reinstalled.
“Today, that undersized kitchen that is over 30 years of age is being called upon to produce twice the number of meals it was ever designed to produce,” he said, noting that the kitchen currently puts out 1,700 meals a day.
He pointed out that a 2017 a routine public health inspection conducted by Delaware Health & Social Services noted, “Production has excessively outgrown the capacity of the kitchen.”
“Things have only gotten worse since then,” said Bock, emphasizing that CHEER has never been cited by DHSS for a violation. “The kitchen cannot serve the current demand; it certainly cannot respond to future demands here in Sussex County.”
He said the organization has discussed how it can maintain the “life-essential services” for seniors, and it determined that constructing a new kitchen was required to serve the increasing demand of aging Baby Boomers.
The new kitchen would be constructed at the Warren & Charles Allen Center in Georgetown, using energy-efficient equipment with a 25-year service life. The project would renovate the existing 2,000-square-foot kitchen area and add 4,376 square feet.
“It will have the production capability to serve 2,625 meals daily, which is what we project the demand to be.”
Bock estimated the project to cost $1,673,160. CHEER is currently hoping to fund 50 percent of the project through monies from the State and County.
“We are receiving at least $400,000 from the State. We’re asking for a match from the County in that same amount.”
According to Bock, the State is providing $200,000 in the current fiscal year, with legislators working to secure at least the same amount the coming fiscal year.
“We’re asking the County to match that with $200,000 in the budget that’s being developed now and $200,000 in the subsequent year’s budget.”
The balance of funds is to come from foundations and private donations, with the organization having already raised more than $200,000 from private donations alone.
During the presentation, council members were given trays signed by residents who receive meals within their individual districts.
“The meals they receive, in many cases, are the only meal they have each and every day.”
Bock also invited council to attend the March for Meals on Thursday, March 21.
“This is a national program all across the country where community leaders are coming to help support the need for senior nutrition program Meals on Wheels all over the country,” he said, noting Gov. John Carney and U.S. Sen. Tom Carper will be participating in the event.
“Go with a volunteer, and go to someone’s home and deliver a meal,” he encouraged. “See what that’s like first-hand to experience what’s involved — not just delivering a meal but delivering hope to people who are lonely and have nobody else…
“We hope you can join us on that day and see first-hand — not just the words, not just the dollars — see the need in these homes, see how some of these people are living and what we do to help provide quality of life for seniors living throughout Sussex County.”
By Maria Counts