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Despite troubles at senior center, Meals on Wheels will continue

The local Meals on Wheels program will keep rolling, no matter what the future holds for the Alexandria Senior Center.

As reported in an Echo Press story last month, the center is facing financial challenges. It recently cashed in a certificate of deposit of $59,200 to stay afloat and faces expenses of $5,000 per month.

Some board members, past and present, blamed the center's slide in membership and profitability on the center's director, Ann Esterberg.

They said she wasn't a "people person," didn't interact with seniors often enough and wasn't willing to work with Nutrition Services Inc. (NSI), which leases space at the center to serve food and run the Meals on Wheels program.

At a June 10 meeting, one board member, Paul Anderson, called for Esterberg's resignation and suggested selling the portion of the building the center owns at 414 Hawhorne Street.

Other board members defended Esterberg, saying that the center's decline can be attributed to factors beyond her control, such as the sluggish economy, aging membership and the growing number of senior activity options in the area.

Esterberg said she's doing her job and deflected much of the criticism to NSI. At the June 10 meeting, Esterberg said that NSI is not reimbursing the center fairly.

NSI said it's not responsible for the center's financial troubles. In a commentary in today's Echo Press, NSI President Larry Kroeger said that last December, the center asked NSI to triple its monthly reimbursement. If NSI would have agreed, its payment would have increased by about $790 per month. This would have still left the center with an operating deficit of about $2,600 per month, Kroeger said.

NSI ultimately offered to increase its reimbursement rate by 25 percent, which was approved by the center's board of directors.

In the time since the newspaper story, some local seniors have expressed concerns about what would happen with the Meals on Wheels program if the center is sold or closed.

Kroeger sent the following letter to Meals on Wheels customers, assuring them that the service will continue. Here is the letter:

You may have read or heard of some issues going on at the Alexandria Senior Center where NSI prepares your meals. Please know the following:

1) NSI is not responsible for the financial problems at the senior center.

2) NSI does not want to prepare your meals anywhere other than the Alexandria Senior Center unless the center closes or our lease with them is terminated.

3) You will continue to get high quality meals from NSI even if we have to prepare them at a different location other than the senior center.

4) Please don't worry about not getting meals, no matter what you read in the paper, newsletter or hear. Your service will not be disrupted.

I apologize for any confusion or worry the situation at the Alexandria Senior Center may have caused you. We are working with the senior center to try to resolve these issues.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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