Bond Bill support for commercial kitchen draws 200,000 cheers from CHEER

State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn listens as CHEER Executive Director Ken Bock, left, explains the challenges CHEER faces every day in home-bound meal preparation at its current kitchen facility in the Thurman Adams State Service Center.

GEORGETOWN – The state of Delaware has ponied up significant funding to help support the increasing need to feed home-bound seniors in southern Delaware.

At present, CHEER Inc. prepares more than 1,700 meals daily five days a week in a cramped, outdated kitchen facility at CHEER’s base in the state-owned Thurman Adams State Service Center in Georgetown.

This past March, CHEER launched a three-year capital campaign – coined Cooking for Sussex Seniors – to support new construction and renovation for a new kitchen facility at the Warren and Charles Allen Community Center, property owned by CHEER Inc. on Sand Hill Road on Georgetown’s eastern limits.

Packaged in the state’s 2018-19 Bond Bill is $200,000 for the new commercial kitchen, a projected $1.4 million project. Funding is allocated through the Bond Bill’s Community Reinvestment Fund.

“Two hundred thousand dollars is very generous, and we are certainly appreciative of that,” said CHEER Inc. Executive Director Ken Bock. “While it doesn’t get the whole kitchen done it is certainly a large step in that direction.”

The funding request was made by State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown.

“I had sent a letter to the Bond Bill Committee. Actually, I had requested $300,000 for that. They came back with $200,000,” said Sen. Pettyjohn. “I was very happy for the funding to come at all. You never know what is going to happen. You never know how much cash is going to end up going in the Bond Bill, or what the size of the Bond Bill is going to be from year to year.”

“For two-thirds of the amount that I requested, I was very happy with that, and I know CHEER was happy with that was well,” said Sen. Pettyjohn.

With approximately one in three Sussex Countians 60 years of age or older, the county’s percentage of senior citizens is higher than anywhere in the state and well above the national average. With people continuing to choose to retire in Sussex County, CHEER anticipates demand for nutrition services will continue.

“There is a gradual growth and it continues; an extra meal or two here and there each week. So, it is growing,” Mr. Bock said.

The mission is for the new kitchen to be functionally operational in 2021.

Estimated cost, including engineering and design, new construction and renovation, site work, utilities and equipment is $1,365,000.

“We started our capital campaign for the kitchen this spring. We are collecting and have been collecting donations from different sources. And we are also about to receive a small grant from USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). So, all of this is adding up,” said Mr. Bock. “And, a lot of the foundations that we’ll be approaching don’t actually make their grant decisions until late this year.”

“And with the state deciding to chip in a significant amount of money, it helps on the applications to those other foundations as well, to see that there are other stakeholders that are willing to pony up and give money,” Sen. Pettyjohn said.

“We feel very good about where we are right now with the funds that have been generated. That $200,000 from the General Assembly certainly goes a long way towards helping us get further and further towards this new kitchen,” said Mr. Bock. “The goal is to have the new kitchen opened by 2021. We are looking at three years of fundraising, which we are into right now. then a year of construction. We want to start the engineering and design work on it this fall, figuring about a year for the engineering and design work to be completed. And then, depending on where we are with our fundraising, hopefully we can break ground right after that.”

The commercial kitchen constructed by the state in the 1980s was built to accommodate preparation of about 800 to 850 meals daily, Mr. Bock said.  It was last renovated in the 1990s. Renovations did not increase the size of the kitchen and much of the equipment from the previous kitchen was reinstalled by the state.

“Every piece of equipment in there is over 25 years old,” said CHEER Nutrition Service Supervisor Florence Mason at the March 15 VIP fundraising kickoff event. “I’m in my 26th year here and everything was here when I came.”

“The existing equipment is obsolete. It has all gone beyond its designed life,” said Mr. Bock. “We have capacity issues and we have a need to replace equipment. It doesn’t make sense to us to be replacing equipment in a facility that already doesn’t have the capacity to support the current need.”

The proposed 6,376-square-foot facility would incorporate an existing small commercial kitchen at the community center. It would replace all meal production currently undertaken at CHEER’s state service center location.

Mr. Bock again acknowledged the state for its support.

“We are appreciative and grateful for what they have done this year, and we continue to look for funding to support the needs of the seniors,” said Mr. Bock. “We are going to be approaching, and we have identified a number of foundations that support this kind of work with non-profit organizations. And most of those are making funding decisions in the fall or by the end of the calendar year. So, we’re looking at all possible sources.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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