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HTC agrees to provide meals for shut-ins until Dec. 31
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Meals will continue to be delivered to senior shut-ins by Howard Training Center until the end of the year. Here Congressman Jeff Denham delivers one to Alta Hamilton of Ceres in September 2016. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/ Courier file photo

Shut-ins who receive Meals on Wheels will continue receiving them from Howard Training Center through the end of the year while the county has pledged to continue providing meals for seniors at the congregate sites throughout the county under a yet-to-be-disclosed arrangement.

Earlier this year HTC said it will no longer provide meals to seniors who partake in the nutrition site and Meals on Wheels program.

Carla Strong, executive director of HTC in Ceres, said her group has contracted with the Area Agency on Aging to run meals to homebound seniors countywide. HTC offers five meals per week or 10,000 meals per month.

Strong said the county has yet to find any permanent group to provide the approximately 4,500 meals per month for seniors who gather at the congregate sites. However, Margie Palomino of the Area Agency on Aging said meals will be provided through a contract expected to be approved by the Board of Supervisors on June 5.

"The congregate meals will continue after June 30," said Palomino. "We have a plan for the next six months."

The county will be sending out Requests for Proposals (RFPs) in an attempt to find someone to take over where Howard Training Center is leaving off. Palomino said it could involve one provider or multiple providers.

"We have been looking at different options. We are getting very close to finding a solution."
HTC will end service for the Senior Nutrition program on June 30.

"It costs us $14.07 per meal in order to produce and bring those meals to the seniors (at the sites)," said Strong. "They're only paying me $5.50. I can't do that."

In contrast, HTC will make seven cents per meal in delivery to homes during the duration of their services. The reason for the disparity, she said, is that13 congregate sites require managers "and so I have to pay them and all of their benefits." Those meals are also freshly prepared, unlike the frozen home-delivered meals.
The RFP will be broken down into different service areas across the county and multiple organizations could fill the need. Last year a RFP was put out and Howard Training Center was the only organization to submit a bid.

United Samaritans has been contacted by the county and may be willing to take over three congregate sites in the Turlock area.

In announcing the change earlier this year Strong noted that HTC's three campuses are having to respond to the demands of the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act of 2016. HTC trains and employs 246 developmentally disabled clients in Stanislaus County. Strong said the federal act is resulting in traditional "sheltered workshops" for training disabled adults being eliminated across the country and replaced by new programs that aim squarely for competitive-integrated employment for clients.

"For us it's going to mean completely revamping all of our programs to survive and we're going to do that - but we're excited," said Strong.
Strong said her industry has known the changes were coming two years ago but stands by her view that the law may be well intentioned but feels it "didn't take all of the population into consideration."

Another change involves converting HTC's commercial kitchen north of Hatch Road into a Culinary Academy, offering training for all steps from cooking to "front of the house" skills with a complete curriculum.

"We are looking at the plans for starting our own culinary school. That is the easiest for us to convert because we have the large kitchen. It's a unique opportunity for the adults that are in our programs to gain employment in the competitive workforce."

Howard Training Center has trained adults with disabilities in vocational and life skills for 65 years. Through a 22-year contract with Caltrans HTC, clients provide maintenance for the rest stops along Highway 99 south of Turlock and along I-5 in Westley and also provide gardening, trimming, and clean-up for the major thoroughfares of the city of Ceres. With those clients now placed into "independent placement," and considered employees of HTC, they are paid minimum-wage as they clean all three HTC facilities.

HTC officials expect to raise the cost of the contract with the city by four or five percent.

Approximately 30 clients work in the Mary Stuart Rogers Commercial Kitchen on the Stonum Road campus and have produced the Senior Meals for Stanislaus County for the last 11 years.

HTC's Production Unlimited campus works on hand assemblage projects for major wineries, the Caltrans Highway division, and the Hope Chest.

Behavioral and Adult Service counseling and care are offered both at the Stratos Way campus and the Stonum campus for over 100 adults with disabilities.