Struggling to stay afloat for the past few months, the financially troubled Feedback Foundation has suffered another blow--this one inadvertent and from the very people it is intended to help.
Since word got out about the foundation's budget trouble, seniors are staying away from its low-cost meals program, thus driving up the costs of service.
"It is a problem," said executive director Shirley Cohen. "They think they are helping us by staying away."
But Ron Gray, finance director for Feedback, said there are fixed costs that must be met at each site, regardless of the number of meals served. These expenses, along with the cost of the food, are made up by federal funding and also by the seniors' donations.
"The more seniors we can serve, the better," Gray said.
The foundation operates at 28 sites throughout the county and feeds about 2,500 people per day through its TLC program, officials said. The nonprofit group, which started 17 years ago, receives about $1.79 million annually in federal funding. However, support from the federal government has failed to keep pace with rising inflation, leaving the organization with a $200,000 deficit.
Earlier this year, emergency donations from several cities and the county kept the Feedback Foundation open. The Board of Supervisors chipped in $100,000.
But if the remaining gap isn't closed, the organization "will have to cut the programs in some cities or parts of some cities," Gray said. "We are exploring those kinds of things right now."
At the Buena Park Senior Center, one of the foundation's biggest sites in the county, the number of diners has decreased by 30% since word of the financial problems came out, said supervisor Bobbie Young.
To counter the effects, the center has sent out flyers inviting seniors to a "Back to School Social." "We are trying to encourage people to come back," Young said. "We are still here."
In neighboring Fullerton, seniors mistakenly thought the program had actually ended, said director Margo Beverage.
"I've lost at least 60 people a day," she said.
Many are staying away out of concern for others, said Pat Mullins, center manager in Huntington Beach.
"They feel, 'If I go to the center, maybe I'm taking away food from someone who truly needs it,' " Mullins said.
The number of meals served in Huntington Beach dropped from 1,450 in May to 1,100 in July. However, Mullins attributes some of the decline to the summer months when, typically, many of the seniors go on vacation.
Not all centers have experienced a decline. In Laguna Beach, the number of people participating has been fairly steady, said Bert Malcolm, site manager.
"I am on the phone constantly telling the people we are in good shape," he said.
In Anaheim, the levels have also remained constant, officials said.
For now, the foundation is doing what it can to get the seniors through the doors.
"We have talked with the managers. . . . I think they are all talking about what to do to get people back," said Cohen. "We want people to know we are still having fun and games."