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Senior Services chefs are cooking with gas

"Photo: Mike Barham and Lois Osborne work in the newly-refurbished kitchen at the Bayview Senior Center.Matt Johnson/staff photo Everyone knew a facelift was the only answer. Facelifts, however, cost money. So countless friends of Island County Senior Services lent their help and support, and now the kitchen at Bayview Senior Center has been rejuvenated. The Island senior meal program is secure for the future. For almost 30 years, the kitchen staff at Bayview has been supplying meals to seniors up and down Island County. Last year the kitchen prepared 99,000 meals for the seven Island senior meal sites and Meals-On-Wheels deliveries. The senior meal program began in 1972 in the kitchen of a small older building just up from the ferry in Clinton, remembered Fran Wachowiak, who was nutrition director for more than 20 years. Wachowiak related the history of the meal program from the earlier time when meals were served in Clinton and delivered to Langley and Freeland. As the rapidly growing need and demand for more senior meals throughout the Island became evident, a small group of South Whidbey community residents met the challenge by joining together to raise funds and buy land in Bayview for the building site of a new Senior Services of Island County. With assistance from Boeing Good Neighbors, Senior Services wasted no time in constructing a modest cement block building. It contained only two rooms: a large space to serve as a senior meal site and a kitchen for preparing meals to be delivered throughout the Island. Outfitting the kitchen proved to be expensive, so to keep costs down, two large ovens and a hot-top stove were purchased from Navy surplus in Oak Harbor. From those meager beginnings - no steamers, boilers, hot boxes, mixers or other appliances - the kitchen staff at Bayview managed to prepare and deliver meals to Greenbank, Coupeville, and Oak Harbor as well as Meals-On-Wheels to clients on the island from Deception Pass Bridge to Sandy Hook. As time went on, other equipment was added, some from Navy surplus and some donated by Whidbey General Hospital. Senior Services enlarged their building to what it is today by adding the Fireside Room, plus office space and a walk-in cooler and freezer in the kitchen. Over the next few years, the additional space provided seniors a place to gather, socialize and participate in activities. The Bayview Senior Center became a hub of senior activity on the island. This past year, however, the aging kitchen at Bayview entered a crisis situation. The kitchen did not meet code requirements and, adding to the problem, parts and equipment were not available for patching and repairing. Senior Services realized it could not put off a major remodel. It was decided that since the kitchen would have to be completely gutted, it would be best to switch over and start cooking with gas. It would be expensive, however. My first big problem was where to find the funds for remodeling, and second, how to keep the kitchen in operation while it was going on, said Jim Self, current Nutrition Director. Almost immediately, several community organizations made generous donations: Island Thrift of Oak Harbor, Good Cheer of Langley, and St. Augustine's Church in Freeland. Then individual donations began coming in, whatever anyone could afford, and the dollars grew. It has been a miracle, and we are all delighted with the new, modern kitchen, said Mike McIntyre, director of Senior Services. He pointed out that changing over to gas energy for cooking will enable the kitchen to be used in the event of a disaster, as well as making it possible to use a Red Cross donated generator to provide a shelter, especially in cold weather. The kitchen renovation is not completely finished, Self said. A few pieces of equipment still need to be purchased. I am very confident it will happen, and meanwhile we are all delighted with the shiny, bright, beautiful face lift."

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