The Federal Way Senior Center is a humble building on the outside but the greatness can be found on the inside. The rustic charm of the log-cabin siding harmonizes with the peaceful sounds of nature. However, don’t let the idyllic scene fool you—the senior center is a bustling place that serves hundreds of seniors and their families. The outstanding services that provide food, socialization, education and fun are at risk though; the center’s out-of-the-way location seems to lend itself to being overlooked by the community at large, and this is a risk that should greatly concern us all.
Shelley Puariea, executive director, showed me around the grounds this week. As part-time staff, she works hard to gain as much funding as possible to keep the food bank, nutritional meal program, thrift store, senior center, computer lab and bread room open to the community. Her heart for seniors drives her to create a warm, welcoming environment. She is joined by a team of over 50 amazing volunteers.
One of the main resources the center offers is their community food bank. As part of Food Lifeline, they operate a Grocery Rescue program. This service provides food to seniors and their families, giving vital support to those in our community who struggle to feed their families. Last year, the food bank fed 12,248 individuals. One woman told volunteers, “If it wasn’t for this produce, I wouldn’t have produce at all.”
Three white tables and two refrigerators — that’s how it all started at the food pantry, according to long-time volunteers, Glen, his wife Janet, Mike and Jan. Glen and Janet have been coming every day since 1985 and at 85, have seen many faces come through the lines. They have a streamlined system of operation, handing out food to the hundreds of hungry who line up outside the outbuilding every Monday and Thursday morning. Glen relates a story from a previous day with a twinkle in his eye; he waited all morning to bring out a special treat for a special family he knows well. The wide-eyed pleasure and excitement on the children’s faces to see that bag of chicken nuggets makes it all worth it to him.
Not only can people get their pantries filled at the center, they can also find affordable household and clothing items at the Treasure Chest, the thrift store on site. Lynn is the volunteer who accepts the donations, sorts them, and arranges them to be sold at very affordable prices on the same days the food bank is open.
The senior center operates Monday-Friday, 8:15 a.m.-4 p.m. Char volunteers every day and supervises the weekly activities, which include exercise classes, live music, hot lunches, pinochle, dancing, and bingo.
Access to healthy food can be a barrier to healthy aging and the center’s cook, Donna, makes sure attendees have a hearty meal each time they come. The center’s Nutritional Meal Program fed over 5,600 people last year alone.
Dick uses his knowledge and expertise to teach AARP classes on safe driving for seniors. His wife Carol takes their knowledge of all the center has to offer and gives to veterans who may be struggling with issues of isolation or lack of access to food resources.
This is truly one of the greatest benefits of the center: in serving seniors, it gives seniors the chance to serve others. Although we all know life does not end after retirement, the senior population is often marginalized and their contributions to society minimized. By remaining active and engaged, these seniors are proving what we should all know to be true: that age does not define us. This is also why keeping the center funded is an issue of utmost importance; it is more than a rustic lodge set back in the woods behind Weyerhauser’s original campus. It is an institution that promotes healthy engagement, learning, activity and valuable resources to the underserved and marginalized populations in our community.
As members of the senior care community in Federal Way, Comfort Keepers is hosting a food/fund drive to help support the Federal Way Senior Center. Shelley and the volunteers are grateful for all the generosity shown them in the past that have gifted them with new refrigerators, an updated kitchen facility, new heat and HVAC in the kitchen, and new freezers.
However, due to the fact that the center is not actually in the city of Federal Way, the only funding they receive is a human services grant and the operating costs are high. There is also always a pressing need for canned and non-perishable items for the food bank. Donations of toiletries and paper products, baby food and pet food are also needed.
To donate food and/or funds to the center, bring your canned or nonperishable food items to either the center at 4016 S. 352nd St., Auburn or the Comfort Keepers’ office at 500 S. 336th St., Suite 204, Federal Way. The official drive ends Dec. 6, but the center appreciates donations year-round. Call Comfort Keepers (253-945-1400) or the Federal Way Senior Center (253-838-3604) for more information.