By Maureen Robertson
Unless something changes, Ramona Senior Center will shut its doors in four years — or sooner.
Operating approximately $63,000 in the red this year, the senior center is keeping its doors open with proceeds from the sale of a home — but that won’t last forever, says Pete Bakarich, president of the Pacific Educational Foundation Board that oversees operation of the center at 434 Aqua Lane.
Among factors contributing to the dilemma: a 25 percent cut in funding in 2010, another 21 percent cut during the federal budget sequestration this year, and rising costs for food, dairy and transportation, said Ray Cardona, the center’s director for the past 11 years.
A look at the center’s 2013-14 budget shows expenditures of $302.812. Of that, $159,682 is for personnel, $85,755 for food, $20,000 for transportation and $35,532 for other costs such as rent, kitchen supplies, insurance and utilities. The center anticipates spending $1,125 for consulting/contracted services and $718 for travel and training.
The revenue column shows $164,247 from the county’s Aging and Independence Services, $51,642 from program income, $23,535 from other sources — and $63,388 in subsidy, money from the sale of the late Ann Lowry’s house.
Lowry, a Ramona senior who died in 2005, had no relatives and left her home to the senior center, said Cardona. It sold for $335,000.
“We’d be gone if she hadn’t done that,” he said.
The center started feeling the financial pinch about 18 months ago, said Cardona. Food that cost $5,500 to $5,600 a month five years ago now averages $9,000 a month. Dairy used to cost $450 to $500 a month. Now it’s $900 a month, he said.
Bakarich, a PEF Board member the past three years, is focusing on fundraisers as one way to boost the budget. He’s helped oversee the growth of the center’s annual Rib Fest, which raised about $800 the first year and last year, its eighth, netted $16,000. He hopes to best that in its new venue, the Olive Peirce Middle School performing arts center, on June 21, 2014.
He plans a Sponsor A Senior Walk-a-thon for April and also is considering a bike-a-thon.
The center is applying for a grant from Ford Motor Co. If it receives money, $15,000 will go for fuel and $5,000 for vehicle maintenance.
The center employees 10 people. Nine are part-time and include a bookkeeper, head cook, prep cook, dishwasher, bus driver and four delivery truck drivers. The only full-time employee is Cardona.
“There’s no way we can start laying off people,” said Bakarich. “It’s been discussed, but we don’t know where we could cut. They all have essential jobs.”
Open weekdays, the serves 60 to 70 lunches a day. Federal law prohibits charging seniors for the meals. Donations of $4 are suggested.
The center averages $3.50 in donations per meal, said bookkeeper Myra Stickney.
“We need $9.51 a meal to break even, so we’re losing money,” noted Cardona.
In addition to meals served in the center, drivers deliver meals to homebound seniors in eight zip codes, said Cardona: Ramona, Valley Center, Mesa Grande, Santa Ysabel, Warner Springs and adjacent communities.
“Without those deliveries, 80 people a day wouldn’t get lunch,” said Cardona. “For many of them, the only people they see are our driver, and the only substantial meal they get is from us.”
Ramona Food and Clothes Closet has been an incredible help, he said.
“This is the second year they’re giving the center $750 a month,” he said.
Rent is another factor. It was $1,500 a month but dropped to $1,200 a month with this year’s federal cuts. Owned by Ramona water district and operated by Ramona Parks and Recreation Association, Ramona Community Center houses the senior center. Considering the costs to operate the community center, RPRA is subsidizing the senior center, noted Cindy Galloway, RPRA executive director.
Volunteers once averaged 60 a month. Now the average is 30, said Cardona.
“We need volunteers,” he said. “We need younger volunteers and we need to bring new people in.”
Information about the center is on its new website, ramonaseniorcenter.com.
“We need the public to come to our aid, because some day everybody will be a senior and need somebody, and this is the place they’re looked after,” said Cardona.
The center is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. In addition to meals, it offers a variety of activities to those 60 and older and has a travel club open to those 50 and older.
For more information, call the center at 760-789-0440.