STAFFORD – The county’s Meals on Wheels location in Lakewood will be moved to Stafford after the Southern Service Center will be renovated to accommodate the entire program.
Already, the southern center, located on Route 9 just south of Route 72, holds a lot of other services. Adult day care, senior services, for example. There are offices for the county clerk, surrogate, and Veterans Service Bureau, and the State Housing and Rental Assistance Program (SHRAP). The St. Francis Center on Long Beach Island also operates a satellite out of the building.
Despite all this going on, there will be more. The county is investing into the center to expand the kitchen in order to have it provide meals for everyone who needs assistance in Ocean County. In doing so, the county will be taking Meals on Wheels out of the Lakewood facility off of Clifton Avenue.
The southern site is five times the size of the northern one in Lakewood. Residents can still come and pick up meals in Lakewood, county administrator Carl Block said. There just won’t be deliveries from that location.
“Traffic is terrible. The kitchen is smaller. Parking is almost non-existent,” Block said. It’s also in such a densely-built area that it can’t expand. Whereas Stafford is on wide open acreage.
“There’s enough room for a whole production center there,” he said.
Although having Stafford be the hub of the entire operation would add some time to meal deliveries in the northern end of the county, it’s not as much is you consider the amount of time Lakewood drivers spend in traffic and looking for parking, he said.
The ceiling will be lowered so that a fire suppression system can be installed. The lower ceiling will also make acoustics better for speaking events.
There will be room for storage, including storage of meals that can be kept at room temperature, given out over extended holidays or in emergencies. Additional refrigeration and a loading dock will also be included.
There will be updated communication technology for when it is used as a headquarters during an emergency. There will also be more administrative space for clients.
During the upgrades, the meals will still be produced, mostly out of Lakewood, but also out of Stafford.
Jackie Rohan, director of the office of senior services, said that the county provides about 1,000-1,100 meals a day.
The nice thing about the Stafford location is that there’s a large area for people to “meet to eat.” It’s important to address people’s social needs as well as their nutritional ones. They could be living in a senior community of hundreds or thousands of people and still not have any connections to anyone else. They’ll also often have a presentation or activity for them when they come in. Some get transportation to arrive and some are independent enough to drive. Social services set up tables so people can talk to them, such as the health department, ombudsman, consumer affairs, Interfaith and RWJ Barnabas Health.
Meals on Wheels is more than just delivering food, Rohan said. When delivery people go out to homes, they might be the only person who comes into that home on a regular basis. This provides a needed social element for homebound seniors.
It also provides an early warning system. These delivery people know to look for red flags that would indicate that the homeowner needs help. They get to know the people, and therefore can tell if something is wrong. The drivers might be the first to notice if a senior has memory issues or other health problems.
If they are having issues with independence, providing a free meal means they don’t have to cook, she added. It might not be safe to have some of them operating stoves.
They provide one meal a day, but some seniors split it up, and have half for dinner. They run Monday through Friday, but there are also many who get meals on the weekend.
The goal of senior services is to look at the whole person, and make sure they are physically and psychologically able to do what they need to do, and have socialization, she said. The Stafford center goes a long way in meeting those needs.
According to the 2010 census, there were 121,104 people 65 and older living in Ocean County.
Freeholder Director Joseph Vicari said it’s a prime location, close to Route 9, Route 72, and the Garden State Parkway. That makes it relatively easy to get to and for delivery drivers to get to other spots in the county.
Since there are two generators on site, it can be used as a shelter, he said. In fact, the National Guard was stationed there during Superstorm Sandy. State police helicopters can land on the property to evacuate seriously injured people.
“It is less expensive to provide food for one-year for a senior then it is to cover the cost of a day in an emergency room,” Vicari said.
Vicari also responded to people’s fears that the federal funding for a lot of health or senior programs could be cut off. “The people in Ocean County are not going to starve. We will always protect the frail, elderly, and disabled.”
The county opened the center in 2011. It used to be St. Mary’s Parish. The senior nutrition site came two years later.
The county will bond $1 million to upgrade it, he said. Yezzi Associates are doing the architectural work. Staff from that group took input from the cooks and other employees at the facility to make their plans. The work is expected to be completed next year.