Seniors enjoy activities at the Federal Way Senior Center. Photo courtesy of United Way of King County

Seniors enjoy activities at the Federal Way Senior Center. Photo courtesy of United Way of King County

Federal Way Senior Center needs food, fund donations

The center’s out-of-the-way location lends itself to being overlooked by the community at large.

  • Tuesday, November 27, 2018 9:30am
  • News

By Abby Foyle

Federal Way Senior Center

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 where all feel cared for and loved. She is joined by a team of over 50 amazing volunteers: Char, Glen, Janet, Lynn, Kathy, Mike S., Jan, Jim, Harry, Chris and Mike are just a few of the many people who spend their time serving the seniors in our community and who have found their lives just as changed as those they serve.

One of the main resources the center offers is their community food bank. As part of Food Lifeline, they operate a Grocery Rescue program; they receive donations from stores such as Fred Meyer, WinCo, Costco, Trader Joe’s and Safeway. This service provides food to seniors and their families, giving vital support to those in our community who struggle to feed their families, despite working hard. Last year, the food bank fed 12,248 individuals; this year, they have already surpassed that goal and have served over 14,791 by October. When I was there on Thursday, just that morning the food bank had fed 300 individuals. In September, 339 individuals over the age of 55 came to the food bank; over 1,500 people were fed in total in just that one month. One woman told volunteers, “If it wasn’t for this produce, I wouldn’t have produce at all.” The center also partners with a community garden on the premises, which is mostly productive in the summer months.

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.

Both Glen and Janet, and Mike and Jan enjoy not only giving food to families, but also developing relationships with them. They love spending time talking to people and getting to know their stories — stories of living paycheck to paycheck, of adults raising kids and taking care of elderly parents, of seniors living on small Social Security checks. On Fridays, the leftover bread and other perishables are given away in the Bread Room.

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. Like all the other volunteers, Lynn cares deeply for the people she serves and is dedicated to providing things that can brighten their day, at a great price. These items are also used in raffles at the senior center; one such raffle was held today at the Thanksgiving Luncheon.

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. They also have a weekly group of veterans who meet to swap war stories and share camaraderie and comradeship. As part of the center’s drive to educate seniors on local and community resources, different informational classes are offered on topics such as aging in place, navigating Medicare, fall prevention and internet security and scams. Representatives from Senior Rights Assistance and SHIBA (Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors) have regular days (1st Thursday of each month) that they come to the Center. There is also a computer lab on site where seniors can receive 1-on-1 help with any technology-related questions, as well as have access to computers and printers. Other offerings that benefit seniors both at home and at the Senior Center are medical equipment rentals (only $10 fee) and many clubs, including the Puget Sound Wine Club and the Northwest Woodcarvers.

The benefits places like the Federal Way Senior Center hold for seniors are immeasurable. Many seniors become isolated in their homes, like Cliff, whose wife died a few years ago. He now has found a community at the Senior Center, especially at the weekly veteran’s meetings (he is a proud Marine) and dancing events. The effects of social isolation on seniors are devastating, not only on their mental health but also on their physical health. Health literacy—the ability to understand, process and evaluate information in regard to health—is vitally important and the seniors who come to the Lunch and Learn program improve their ability to understand and navigate their health needs more successfully. And of course, it is always said that laughter is the best medicine and those who attend the Senior Center love nothing more than Social Bingo hour where they can meet up with friends, have a good time and, of course, share personal stories (according to Valene and Nancy, two delightful ladies who have been coming to the Center for 3 and 5 years, respectively).

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, and as of Sept. 30, has fed over 8,200.

In fact, the food is a major selling point to people like Darlene and Anne, who have been coming for years because they “feel really welcome” and the “service is good.”

Many seniors fear losing their independence — coming to the center can remedy that in a myriad of ways. For instance, Valene and Nancy both take the Hyde shuttle to get there, successfully navigating public transportation. Dick (who proudly served in the Navy) uses his knowledge and expertise to teach AARP classes on safe driving for seniors as well as helps lead the weekly veteran’s meetings. 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, and that turning 85 is the new 65; a new season of life is an opportunity to experience life in new and exciting ways. 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. When we dismiss the needs of the oldest among us, we dismiss the years of experience, wisdom and insight. Dave, a regular volunteer, is a retired history teacher and spends his time at the Center doing odd jobs, playing the piano, and listening to veteran’s stories. His dream is to record these stories so both current and future generations can learn from them; after all, history is more than just dry facts in a textbook. It is a collection of stories told by our grandparents and great-grandparents, the accumulation of lifetimes of love, loss and growth.

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 (the city grants them approximately $19,000 to pay for their part-time cook) and the operating costs are high. Along with other service and community organizations, local businesses, foundations and individuals, organizations like the King County Fire and Rescue, the Department of Commerce, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, the Federal Way Rotary, Windermere and the Dairy Farmers Association have donated specific items, such as those listed above as well as a new roof, which is always very beneficial and much appreciated. It is more difficult to receive ongoing funding for less tangible items, such as the electric bill to run the refrigerators where the food bank items are stored or the water bill to keep the garden lush and productive in the summer. There is also always a pressing need for canned and non-perishable items for the food bank, such as soups, fruit, beans, vegetables, spaghetti sauce, chili, tuna, chicken, pasta, rice, soups, flour, noodles, cereal, potatoes, oil for cooking, salad dressing, peanut butter, jam, applesauce, coffee, tea, cookies, nuts, juice, water, condiments, etc. Donations of toiletries (toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, lotions, soap etc.) and paper products (cups, plates, napkins, paper towels, sponges, etc.), 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. Many thanks to our partners in making this possible — Avalon Care Center, Concierge Care Advisors, Foundation House, Mill Ridge Village and Village Green. Call Comfort Keepers (253-945-1400) or the Federal Way Senior Center (253-838-3604) for more information.

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