New kitchen better equipped to serve Mid-Columbia seniors

A new commercial kitchen that serves as the hub for cooking hundreds of warm and nutritious meals a day for Benton and Franklin counties’ senior citizens opened last month in Richland.

“This is the nicest kitchen I’ve ever been in,” gushed Chef Brian Kinner, food services manager for Senior Life Resources Northwest.

The 4,300-square-foot kitchen on Fowler Street opened Sept. 6 after spending a year operating out of the Country Gentleman restaurant in Kennewick.

Prior to that, meals were made at the Pasco Senior Center kitchen, a cramped 500-square-foot cooking space, for about 15 years.

The new $1 million building includes about $400,000 in kitchen equipment, purchased with $200,000 from the state Legislature and about $175,000 locally contributed.

More donations are needed to finish the kitchen’s adjacent café and to replenish the agency’s diminished reserve funds.

Naming rights are available for a $150,000 donation, said Marcee Woffinden, nutrition services director for Senior Life Resources Northwest.

 

Serving two counties, homebound seniors

The kitchen bustles with activity Monday through Friday.

Each weekday hundreds of meals are made to serve seven different dining centers’ noontime lunches in Benton and Franklin counties — at the Kennewick Senior Center, Pasco Senior Center, Richland Community Center, Housing Authority of the City of Pasco and Franklin County’s Parkside development, Connell Community Center, Benton City’s Desert Rose development and Prosser Senior Center. The kitchen also prepares meals for Adult Day Services in Kennewick.

The two full-time and one half-time cooks as well as Kinner also prepare food for the Meals on Wheels program. Volunteer drivers deliver about 350 to 400 meals to seniors each day on about 36 routes in the two counties.

With the meals made for the seven sites, that adds up to about 12,000 to 14,000 meals a month.

Last year 325 volunteers donated 24,000 hours driving 84,000 miles to deliver meals for the program.

Revenue for the building project — which also included a new administrative building and parking lot — came from about $1.5 million in tax-exempt bonds through the Washington State Housing Finance Commission.

Senior Life Resources Northwest’s board also approved spending $1.5 million in reserve dollars and taking out a $100,000 loan on an insurance policy.

“The kitchen dream has been a decade or longer in the making,” said Grant Baynes, executive director for the agency.

The agency has a $16 million annual budget, with $1.2 million earmarked for nutrition services. The rest goes toward its home care services program.

Its revenue comes from the Medicaid program, private pay, the Veterans Administration, and state and federal sources.

 

Cooking for seniors

Kinner said he’s always loved cooking for others to provide a warm meal that satisfies and warms a person on the inside. It’s even more meaningful since he began cooking for seniors about six months ago, he said.

“Cooking for seniors is even more relevant for me — to be able to help people who can’t help themselves,” he said. “Now I get to give back.”

Each meal coming out of the Richland kitchen is required by the federal government to provide a third of a senior’s daily food requirements, Kinner said.

“The new kitchen means we can really concentrate on senior nutrition and do it well,” Baynes said.

Kinner calls cooking for seniors a “great gift” because he has a hand in making sure their meals are nutritious and tasty. Sometimes just the delivery of a meal to a homebound senior might be “a highlight of their day,” he said.

The kitchen’s new equipment will help Senior Life Resources Northwest’s 26 staffers to better serve the growing senior citizen population in the Tri-Cities, Woffinden said.

Just two weeks after opening, the kitchen served a record 569 meals in one day— which didn’t include the Prosser and Connell sites, she said.

The kitchen’s new equipment will make prepping, storing and making frozen meals for weekend consumption a reality. Right now, Meals on Wheels delivers to seniors Monday through Friday, providing seniors with extra frozen meals on Thursdays to eat during the weekends.

The new kitchen’s extra freezer capacity as well as a blast chiller means the cooks can make homemade meals to freeze instead of buying them as they do now.

“The whole goal is to better serve seniors,” Woffinden said.

Kettle cookers, a convection oven and tilt skillets also help the staff prepare larger quantities of food more quickly and the 18-by-20 foot walk-in freezer will allow the kitchen to accept more food donations.

“When the right kitchen, the right staff and the right equipment all come together at the same time, it’s like magic is happening in there,” Woffinden said.

 

Community café

Outside the kitchen will be a small café that will serve the seniors’ meal of the day as well as sandwich, salad and soup options. If seniors want to linger over coffee or cards, they can do so as the senior centers serve lunch at specific times.

It’ll also be a place for the dedicated volunteers.

“We want this café to feel like this can be their home,” Woffinden said.

Kinner agreed: “This place is just as much theirs. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do this.”

Cooking classes also are planned. Woffinden said one might be teaching widows how to cook for one after their spouse has passed away.

The suggested donation for a meal is $2.75 but “everyone gets to eat no matter what,” Woffinden said.

For more information, call 509-735-1911 or visit seniorliferesources.org.

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