Busy preparing meals at the Socorro Senior Center last Friday were Jose Leyva and Christine Gonzales, with Summit Kitchen Manager Helen Green (left). The Socorro kitchen prepares meals for all three senior centers in the county.
John Larson | El Defensor Chieftain photo

Work on a planned upgrade on the kitchen at the Magdalena Senior Center has been temporarily delayed. The work was to begin on Apr. 20 and last for about four weeks, according to Socorro County Manager Michael Hawkes.

He said the project will begin after all required paperwork is completed.

“When we receive funds and before a contractor is selected …I must review the quotes and the contractor selected,” Hawkes said in an email. “Further, the projects were not on hold per se as the funds do not expire until June of 2023. The contractor still has to sign off on the agreement and then set out a time frame to commence and an anticipated completion date.”

The Magdalena Senior Center on Ninth Street in Magdalena is in need of new flooring. The facility was built in 2007.
John Larson | El Defensor Chieftain photo

Thanks to a grant from the Department of Health’s Area Agency on Aging, the Magdalena center is getting $34,970 from a grant for kitchen upgrades, including new flooring. The Veguita Senior Center is also included in the grant. It’s getting $64,234 for kitchen upgrades.

Work on Socorro Senior Center’s kitchen is finished at a cost of $116,523, paid for by the same grant.

“We really needed to do a kitchen remodel for plumbing and the kitchen is old,” said Linda Murrillo, Director of the three centers. “The floor needed to be re-done with non-slip tile. And we put RSP on the walls It’s a special kind of wall material that’s easier to keep clean. And it’s up to code standards.”

The original walls got grandfathered in because of the age of the center, “so now it’s a more modern kitchen.”

Private contractor Advanced Environmental replaced the flooring at the Socorro center.

Murrillo said the floor in the Magdalena center needs to be evened out, and then covered with non-slip tile installed. “The same for Veguita. They both have concrete floors currently,” she said.

Murrillo said the past year has presented unique challenges for the senior centers, as well as the county seniors.

“It’s been kind of crazy. This has been a crazy year,” Murrillo said. “We saw this coming back in March 2020, and we started preparing for it right away.”

Murrillo said she has started making plans for further re-opening, which is dependent on the COVID-19 risk level.

The Socorro site alone serves 179, those within the city limits.

“The Area Agency on Aging has asked us for ideas for a re-opening plan,” she said, “We are looking at what the DOH and CDC recommendations were going to be and started getting our cost estimates on how we were going to do it. We are still moving along. Putting our ducks in a row.”

In the meantime, seniors must be fed.

“But at any rate, we’re still going to do the grab-and-go meals and the home-delivered meals,” she said. “That’s not going to change. At some point when they say we’re ready, then we’ll be ready.”

All extra activities at the center are still on hold.

“Our activities are to feed the seniors. It’s so sad because we miss them so much,” she said. “There just isn’t any money for senior programs anymore. Caring for seniors isn’t a top priority anymore. It’s sad to say.”

According to a message on the internet from Commissioner Ray Martinez, meals will be prepared as usual until further notice. All the cooking is normally done on-site.

Center Director Linda Murrillo, second from right, poses with Jose Leyva, Summit Kitchen Manager Helen Green, and Head Cook Christine Gonzales at the Socorro Senior Center.

“We order from Sysco, and my cooks do the cooking. We do cater meals to the Veguita Senior center. Magdalena actually cooks their own meals,” Murillo said. “Once the Magdalena center begins going through its kitchen renovation we’ll be catering their meals, too. So, we’ll be cooking for all three centers. It’s going to be a big job.”

Murrillo is now facing the prospect of having to bring in more to help in the kitchen with limited funding for that.

“What’s really hard is that the senior center is not a city or county-mandated program. It’s a state-mandated program,” she said. “But at the same time, we are so fortunate that the county supports the senior center the way that it does. The city supports us, also, but the county picks up the majority of the cost.

“We are just so fortunate to have that kind of support,” she said. “The state only pays for meals. It does not pay for employee positions. The state only pays the unit cost.”

The unit cost is based on the congregate meals, including home-delivered meals. Congregate meals are only $4.43 per meal, while home-delivered meals are $6.43 a meal,” she said. “Congregate meals are prepared primarily here at the Socorro center. So [money from the state] doesn’t even cover the cost of the employee cooking the meal. It only covers the raw food cost. It doesn’t cover utilities, rent. If a person is working, their health coverage, retirement, anything that goes along with having to pay an employee here to work here.”

Murrillo said all three centers utilize the same menu which meets the Required Daily Allowance for persons 60 years of age and older. Home delivered meals are provided to frail, home-bound and at-risk elderly individuals after an in-home assessment is completed. Individuals utilizing this service must not able to physically attend the senior center.

In spite of the challenges, “this isn’t just a job, it’s a calling,” she said. “The same goes for any of my employees, they all wanted to keep it going during COVID.”

This meant they had to take on greater responsibilities.

“We actually asked to take on heavier burdens. Like the food boxes,” Murrillo said. “These are like 40- to 50-pound food boxes. We can barely lift them. We requested 300. We would load up our shuttle that we would use to transport the food boxes from the center to the seniors’ households.”

The food boxes come from the Roadrunner Food Bank.

“They would deliver them by semi over here by the palette,” Murrillo said. “My staff and I would load them up into the big shuttle and go and start delivering food boxes to all the seniors. There were times we were working until seven o’clock at night. And these boxes are heavy. We could barely even carry them.

“Anyone who would normally receive meals, we were at their houses dropping off food boxes,” she said.

Once the floor work begins at the Magdalena center, Summit, the contracted service, will be doing all the cooking. Rose Wilborn and Mary Padilla will go daily to pick up the meals to give out in Magdalena.

Murrillo recognized all the employees who put in the time.

Linda Mave, site manager; Danny Hill, driver; Art Jojola, driver; Jose Leyva, driver; Danny Woodard, main driver; Helen Griego, Grab and Go; Estrella Moline, quality assurance; Shiana Hollis, senior advocate; and Raqual Morales, Veguita driver.

“As I said, it’s not a normal job. It’s a calling.”