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Senior Program Prepares To Close Its Doors

By Rio Bauce, Special to the Planet
Tuesday August 15, 2006

Every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for the last 37 years, the New Light Senior Center, located in the South Berkeley YMCA, has provided seniors with healthy, organic, nutritionally balanced food at a low price. That might end on Sept. 1, when the program founded by former Councilmember Maudelle Shirek will have to close its doors because of funding problems. 

“There aren’t that many nutritionally balanced meals these days for seniors,” said Jackie DeBose, who took over as director of New Light when Shirek retired. “We shop at Berkeley Bowl and serve food without salt or sugar. There is a great variety of high-quality food.” 

DeBose said that the combination of high costs and reduced funding has contributed to the need for termination of the program. The expenses of gas, food, and food packaging have been high. However, she says that this is because a lot of seniors have utilized this program. 

“We serve approximately 15,000 meals a year,” said DeBose. “Around 30 to 40 people come each day for the three days. Most people get three meals a week, while people with a high need get two or three meals a day delivered to their door.” 

Harry Gans, a Berkeley resident, has been going to the New Light program for a little under a year. He describes the program as a sanctuary. 

“It’s not only a lunch program,” says Gans. “People come there for not only the food but also the company. We engage in conversation. It’s been a really extraordinary program. Everyone seems to like each other.” 

Shirek, a former city councilmember and political activist, started the program because she wanted seniors to have quality, healthy food available to them in a social setting. New Light now receives funding from the City of Berkeley and Alameda County Meals on Wheels. 

DeBose says, “I am hoping that if people read about this, there will be a bunch of people hoping to save the program who see how important this agency is.” 

How much money would they need to continue to operate? 

“We would need $40,000 to get us out of deficit,” comments DeBose. “We use about $2,000 a month for services, which is not a lot for a non-profit to operate.” 

District 4 Councilmember Dona Spring wants the program to stay open. She is proposing that if funding is found within the community to keep the program open for a month ($2,000), she would make a plea to the City Council at their Sept. 11 meeting to get $40,000 of emergency funding to keep the center open. 

“I would like us to try to find the money,” said Spring. “I think that the city should provide funding…this program has been in existence for a long time. If we can gather $2,000 from the community, I would bring it up on the 11th.” 

Councilmember Betty Olds said that if Councilmember Max Anderson wants the City Council to continue to support the center, she would be on board. 

“I would certainly support that,” commented Olds. 

Anderson could not be reached for comment by deadline.  

Donations may be sent to the New Light Senior Program, 2901 California Street, Berkeley, 94703. For more information on the program, call 549-2666.