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Senator Baldwin dishes it up at Timber Grill
Sawyer County Record - 9/8/2017
"I'm taking orders," said U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison) from inside the Timber Grill, a mobile food trailer, on Wednesday, Aug. 30, at Louie's Landing on Moose Lake.
The senator wasn't working a side job during Congress's summer recess. She was in Sawyer County to observe how Community Facilities (CF) grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had been used for outreach to seniors, those on low income and the disabled.
While she was inside the food trailer, Baldwin decided to be the face of the outreach and to take orders and serve food.
The Sawyer County Senior Resource Center (SRC) had secured two CF grants, one to modernize its commercial kitchen in Hayward and another to purchase the Timber Grill.
Starting Aug. 2, the Timber Grill has moved around the county each Wednesday (scheduled for 10 weeks until Oct. 4) to more isolated rural sites to offer a free meal (donations are accepted) to those 60 and over who do not live near one of the fixed SRC facilities.
Along with the meal, several local partner organizations and their representatives also appeared, such as Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC), Hayward Health Services, Regional Hospice Services, Namekagon Transit and Sawyer County Health and Human Services.
Participants were offered health and benefit information and free blood pressure and memory screenings.
Baldwin spent more than a half hour talking to the grill staff, agency staff and participants of the outreach event. She was particularly interested in what the agencies and the participants felt they were receiving from the outreach.
Dinner table talks
After talking with participants and representatives, Baldwin sat down at a dining table for a discussion about budget concerns.
"We are working on our 2018 budget for appropriations and we want to make sure it is there where it is needed," she said.
Linda Hand, executive director of Senior Resource Center, the aging unit for Sawyer County, said her non-profit organization struggles with funding and has had to resort to local fundraising efforts to provide services. She said the need for services is growing with a large senior population.
"We have approximately 6,000 seniors in Sawyer County and that's estimated to go over 8,500 by 2030 because of the baby boomers," Hand said. "How we are going to provide those services if our funding is cut or even flat lined?"
She said the outreach effort reaches those who might not have the funds or means to travel.
Hand explained that to qualify for the grant for the food trailer, SRC needed another grant to upgrade its commercial kitchen because the food trailer required a qualified home base. And she said rural residents have been happy to see the Timber Grill come to their locations.
"We are getting a lot of feedback from them saying, 'It's nice that somebody actually came here,'" Hand said. "They haven't had that. If we hadn't had the grant from the USDA to redo our kitchen we wouldn't have gotten the grant to get the food trailer either."
She said the food trailer can also be used in an emergency and to substitute for a kitchen if one of the fixed senior center kitchens goes down.
Samantha Phillips, health promotions coordinator for the SRC, said the Timber Grill outreach was a "great way" to raise awareness of the services she offers on living with diabetes and chronic conditions, preventing falls and living at home.
"If we weren't able to do this (Timber Grill), I don't think I would be able have conversations with these people who are not coming to the meal sites because they are too far away," said Phillips.
Brian Deaner of Stevens Point, community programs director for USDA in Wisconsin, said it is because Rural Development has field offices in cities such as Spooner that the staff is aware of local needs.
"Rural development is structured so that we have field staff in six locations throughout the state," he said. "You talk about coming and finding out what the needs are in these communities; I think it is vitally important to maintain that presence, to have a USDA representative in Spooner, so these local people don't have to go to Madison or Milwaukee. By having that we find the high-impact projects."
Lance Ausing, programs specialist with USDA in Spooner, said he learned that the SRC was serving 35,000 meals a year and wanted to do an outreach.
However, Deaner told Baldwin the CF grant program that gave the grants to the SRC receives just $450,000 a year for the whole state.
"These are very good projects but we are very limited on the numbers," Deaner said.
Ausing said there is fierce competition for the CF grants and many communities are stretched financially to provide the matching funds.
"This program was targeted for some deep cuts," Baldwin said, "and in the Senate we have restored them and have added a little bit more than last year. But in the House it hasn't fared as favorably. I'm saying that if you feel they should keep going, you can be citizen advocates and call all your elected officials, congressman, senators, etc."
Janet Zander, advocacy and public policy coordinator for Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources Inc., said the lessons learned in Sawyer County on how to do outreach will be spread around the state.
"What Linda is doing in here Sawyer County is letting us know in the rest of the state whether an outreach like this will work in other areas," Zander said. "What you are experiencing in Sawyer County is what is occurring everywhere - an increasing aging population with decreasing funds. No one does it better than Linda in terms of partnering with communities and other entities to make the most of that money and to make those resources go far, and this is a great example of that. But you can only go so far when funding has not increased year after year but costs have gone up. And if we are going to meet needs we have to try new things, and what we've seen today is that bringing out to communities where people are is what's working."
Zander also warned that the proposed House budget eliminates state health insurance assistance that is an outreach for Medicare counseling and cuts senior employment programs, which inhibits the ability of the elderly to remain in their homes.
"There has been funding threatened for senior services that allow people to stay and live independently in their homes and we are fighting to restore it," Baldwin said.
Karen Melasecca, transit manager for Namekagon Transit, a rural public transportation service in Sawyer County, said the federal dollars for rural transit her agency had been authorized to receive on Jan. 1 are not expected to be available until October, causing a budget concern.
"It makes it much more difficult for us to keep the wheels rolling and to bring the seniors to where they need to go, whether that is for food or medical," Melasecca said.
Baldwin also discussed the importance of caregivers, those who take care of a family member. She said the value of caregivers is about the same as the Medicare budget.
"Given the shortage of direct care workers, if we don't do more to support family caregivers, I don't know what we are going to do," Zander said.
"Caregivers can easily get isolated," Baldwin said, "especially when a loved one requires 24/7 care such as Alzheimer's, where it gets serious enough that you feel you can't leave or something horrible will happen."
Zander added the memory screening the outreach does is important part of acknowledging the importance of cognitive health.