CHEER’s efforts to support commercial kitchen for seniors makes progress

GEORGETOWN — Senioritis continues to rise in Sussex County.

So does the need to feed the nutritional demands for homebound seniors.

CHEER’s Cooking for Sussex Seniors, a three-year capital campaign launched last March to support a new commercial kitchen at the Warren and Charles Allen Community Center is poised to enter its second year.

Local, county, state and federal officials and representatives got a hearty nutritional boost and an update on the largest capital campaign in CHEER’s 48-year history Feb. 21 at the organization’s 2019 State of Sussex County Seniors Advocacy Breakfast.

Thus far, a total of $416,115 has been raised toward the projected $1,673,160 renovation/new construction project that will position CHEER to meet nutritional needs of a growing senior population decades into the future.

“The expanded kitchen gives us design capacity to produce up 2,650 meals a day,” said CHEER Executive Director Ken Bock. “That number is what we anticipate the demand to be within the next 20 years as the peak of the Baby Boomers moves through the ranks of senior citizens. Growth rates for elderly are four times the rate of the general population. The older seniors, those 85 and older, are growing at the fastest rate of any other age cohort of the population here in Sussex County.”

The new kitchen enable CHEER to adequately serve the senior community for the next 40 years, Mr. Bock said.

The new 6,400-square-foot commercial kitchen at the community center on Sand Hill Road in Georgetown will replace CHEER’s now-rented facility in the Adams State Service Center.

That kitchen was designed and built in the 1980s to accommodate daily production of 800 to 850 meals – about half the meals CHEER currently prepares on a daily basis.

“Public Health has told us that we are doing too much with too little space,” Mr. Bock said. “And that is not going to get better.”

About half of amount raised thus far is $200,000 in state Bond Bill allocations for fiscal year 2019. Funding was requested by State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, who plans to seek additional funding in the state’s FY2020 budget.

“I plan on going to Bond Bill again this year and requesting additional funds for them as well to move them forward,” said Sen. Pettyjohn, who declined to reveal what his ballpark request might be. “There is a critical need.

“This isn’t just a ‘nice to have project.’ It’s something that we absolutely have to do.”

“Really, last year we were hoping for $200,000. That is why I asked for $300,000 last time,” said Sen. Pettyjohn. “This time around I actually am on Bond Bill Committee, so I might have a little bit more push than before.”

The state renovated the current kitchen in the 1990s. However, the size was not increased and much of the equipment was reinstalled by the state. Five years ago, state of Delaware informed CHEER that the state would no longer be maintaining the capital kitchen equipment, Mr. Bock said. Several years ago, the state began charging CHEER rent, at $30,000 annually.

In addition to space and storage issues, equipment at the Adams Service Center is for the most part obsolete.

“We are doing 1,700 meals a day, twice what that kitchen was designed to do, and we are doing it with equipment that is far beyond its designed life,” said Mr. Bock.

He told the several dozen attendees that the commercial dishwasher is so obsolete motor bearings had to be purchased on eBay.

Approaching a near-crisis point, Mr. Bock said the current kitchen infrastructure is “not going to last much longer. We have Band-Aids and duct tape and everything else to keep it going because there are seniors throughout all of Sussex county each and every day that are counting on us to deliver those meals.”

Those senior numbers are growing.

“Two out of every three people who migrate into Delaware to make Delaware their residence are coming to Sussex County. Most of those people are retirees, coming here for the quality of life,” said Mr. Bock. “Those that have come here as healthy active seniors decades ago are now finding it harder and harder to maintain that independence in their homes.”

“Our goal would be to raise the additional money that would allow us to build as early as next year. We need to,” said Mr. Bock. “I’m not sure how many more parts we can find on eBay.”

The total $1,673,160 cost includes $407,480 in new equipment. CHEER plans to seek funding from a variety of potential sources, both public and private, Mr. Bock said.

In addition, Delaware Department of Transportation’s redesign plans for the signalized Rt. 9/Sand Hill Road intersection will require closure of CHEER’s main entrance to the community center.

The new entrance will be located on the back side of the CHEER campus and current plans call for a roundabout, similar but smaller than the one on The Circle in downtown Georgetown.

“We have been working with DelDOT,” Mr. Bock said. “DelDOT has been good to work with.”

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