CHEER seeks Sussex County match to state funding for expanded kitchen

GEORGETOWN — CHEER Inc. brought its capital campaign to Sussex County Council this week, with a request for money to support its commercial kitchen upgrade that will feed the nutritional need of the county’s growing senior population for decades to come.

“We are seeking at least $400,000 from the state. We are asking for a match from the county in that same amount,” said CHEER Executive Director Ken Bock. “The state provided $200,000 in its last budget and we have been talking with legislators who are supportive of trying to secure more money in this coming year’s budget … at least a match of that amount.

“We are asking the county to match that; $200,000 in the budget that is being developed now, and $200,000 in the subsequent year budget,” said Mr. Bock.

Last year CHEER launched Cooking for Sussex Seniors, a $1.673 million fundraising campaign to renovate and expand existing kitchen facilities at CHEER’s Warren & Charles Allen Community Center in Georgetown.

The project is designed to meet senior nutrition needs for the next 40 years.

The new kitchen will replace the current outdated, undersized kitchen facility in the Thurman Adams State Service Center that CHEER officials say cannot adequately meet CHEER’s daily production demand of 1,700 meals.

“That kitchen was built in the 1980s, renovated in 1990s and designed to produce between 800 and 850 meals a day,” said Mr. Bock. “Equipment in that kitchen has a designed life of 20 to 25 years. 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. The equipment has aged beyond its service life. The facility is undersized. It does not have the capacity. We are producing twice the number of daily meals in a kitchen that is 32 years old.”

Mr. Bock highlighted commentary from a November 2017 routine Delaware Health and Social Services inspection report which said “production has excessively outgrown the capacity of the kitchen … need more production and refrigerated capacity.” (He noted that the facility has never failed or been cited for a violation in public health inspection.)

Nutrition is the largest service CHEER offers, providing meals daily in congregate sites located in two Georgetown locations along with Greenwood, Lewes, Long Neck, Milton, Ocean View and Roxana, all facilities operated by CHEER. In addition, CHEER provides congregate meals at senior sites in Laurel and Bridgeville.

“Our homebound meals program, Meals on Wheels provides homebound meals throughout all of Sus-sex County. We are in Milford. We are in Delmar. We are in Seaford, all of Sussex County with exception of the area in Rehoboth and Lewes where there is a separate, smaller Meals on Wheels provider,” said Mr. Bock. “This is only made possible by through our volunteers, who are committed, dedicated to making a difference in the lives of people in Sussex County.”

CHEER has more than 450 active volunteers who make those services. he said.

But the current kitchen facility simply “cannot serve the current demand and it certainly cannot re-spond to the future demands here in Sussex County,” said Mr. Bock.

The new nutrition center will include renovation of 2,000 square feet of existing kitchen area with a 4,300-square-foot expansion.

This, Mr. Bock told council, would provide production capability to serve 2,625 meals daily “which we project the demand to be over the next few years with the growth of the Baby Boomers.”

Beckett Wheatley, CHEER’s Chief Operating Officer, presented cardboard plates to council members Doug Hudson, Irwin “I.G.” Burton and Michael Vincent, signed by CHEER seniors from their respective council districts.

Councilmen John Rieley and Samuel Wilson Jr. previously received signed plates while attending CHEER’s recent advocacy breakfast.

For years, the county has supported CHEER, mostly through the county’s annual Human Services Grant Program. This fiscal year, Sussex County’s support for CHEER totals $55,100, which includes $5,500 per seven locations, $9,600 for general operations, $6,000 for the homebound meal program and a $1,000 council grant, County Finance Director Gina Jennings said.

March for Meals

Mr. Bock invited county council members to participate in the Meals on Wheels/March for Meals program, a national initiative on March 21.

Gov. John Carney, U.S. Sen. Thomas Carper and other state officials are scheduled to participate, Mr. Bock said. In Sussex County, March for Meals will start at 10:30 a.m.

“Take an hour of out of your schedule. Go with a volunteer and go to someone’s home and actually deliver a meal,” said Mr. Bock. “See what that is like first hand, to experience what is involved, not just in delivering the meal but delivering hope to people who are alone and may have nobody else. See what it means to go into some of these homes and see how some of these people are living and what we do to help provide quality of life and allow them to stay in their homes throughout Sussex County.”

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