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Published December 27, 2013, 09:30 AM

Cuts lead to closures of Minnesota senior meal programs

LEWISTON, Minn. (AP) — Renata Rislow and her friends who lunch together at the Lewiston Community Center will need to make new arrangements when some three dozen of Minnesota's 502 congregate dining facilities for seniors close next week, the victim of federal budget cuts.

LEWISTON, Minn. (AP) — Renata Rislow and her friends who lunch together at the Lewiston Community Center will need to make new arrangements when some three dozen of Minnesota's 502 congregate dining facilities for seniors close next week, the victim of federal budget cuts.

Lunch hour there usually starts with a joke. "Who goes, 'Ho, ho, ho,' swish. 'Ho, ho, ho,' swish. 'Ho, ho, ho,' swish?" Rislow asked. "Santa Claus caught in revolving doors!"

Rislow, 84, and the other rosy-cheeked women adorned in holiday sweaters gave a hearty laugh before they grabbed plastic cafeteria trays and lined up for a lunch provided by the Southeast Minnesota Community Action Agency, Semcac.

But Minnesota Public Radio reported Friday (http://bit.ly/1fMMGFY ) that some sites aren't bringing in enough people to stay open, mostly in Greater Minnesota. Semcac will shut four of its 57 dining sites on Tuesday, including lunch in Lewiston.

Jean Wood, executive director of the Minnesota Board on Aging, said providers have made alternative arrangements for seniors, including converting many to home-delivered meals.

"Closing a site is always a challenge for a community and for a provider because you have to tell someone that they're not getting something the same way they thought they were going to get it before," Wood said. "It takes a little bit of time for folks to adjust."

Minnesota got $6.9 million last under the Older Americans Act, which funds senior programs including congregate and home-delivered meals, and other programs. That money was cut by nearly $500,000, about 7 percent, forcing regional agencies that distribute the money to close sites with declining populations.

The closures will be a big adjustment for many seniors, especially in places like Lewiston, a town of about 1,600 just east of Rochester that doesn't have a grocery store.

"It's going to be really sad," said Gail Schwanbeck, the center's senior nutrition program manager. Many of them will have food delivered to their homes in the new year, but Schwanbeck worries how the loss of fellowship and conversation will affect them.

The seniors, she said, will have to "go outside of their close-knit community and find the services that they need to stay independent, or move so that they can be as independent as possible, wherever that might be."

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