Salmon dinner fundraiser key to senior center operations

The popular annual event helps to fund meal and social services at the Center at the Park.

Volunteers, staff and board members serve up the goods at the Center at the Park’s 2012 salmon dinner. From left: Barry Jenkins, Theresa Regimbal, Sally Kearsley and Dave Dohse.

Volunteers, staff and board members serve up the goods at the Center at the Park’s 2012 salmon dinner. From left: Barry Jenkins, Theresa Regimbal, Sally Kearsley and Dave Dohse. Courtesy photo

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WALLA WALLA — The Center at the Park is gearing up for its 10th annual Wild Alaskan Salmon Barbecue Dinner, 4:30-7 p.m. Friday. The event, a fundraiser for the Center, includes great food and opportunities to socialize with friends and family.

Around 400 guests typically attend the dinner, so producing it is a big job for volunteers and staff. On the day of the event it takes about 30 volunteers to set up, serve and then clean up. Volunteers also help with the cooking and decorations.

If you go

The Wild Alaskan Salmon Barbecue Dinner takes place Friday at the Center at the Park, 720 Sprague St. There are two seating times, 4:30-6 p.m. and 6-7 p.m. Tickets are $20. For tickets or more information call 527-3775. Visit the Center at the Park’s website here.

“It takes a lot of volunteers, and it takes money to get the salmon here,” said Howard Ostby, executive director of the Center.

The salmon is donated by Bill Boone and his family, who are involved with commercial fishing in Alaska. The Center pays for part of the cost to ship the fish.

The dinner will feature plenty of entertainment, along with raffles of donated items.

“This year we will have wine — Seven Hills Winery is a sponsor,” Ostby said.­­­­

This annual fundraiser is very important for the center’s operation, particularly its meals program. Recent state and federal budget chaos has threatened the vitality of the center, but once the state budget was enacted before July 1, the concern has subsided a bit.

“It’s been very quiet of late,” Ostby said. “There are talks of more cuts coming at some point. We were given notice of possible big cuts next year. We had to close one day a month.”

“It’s cutting into the whole thing. Day-to-day expenses keep going up,” he said. “Right now it’s about $1 comes in and $1 goes out — or more like $1.01 goes out.”

The Center has employees to pay and clients to serve, and the need for senior services is increasing. Ostby is concerned about this winter and further potential budget cuts.

“It’s hard to tell. We get used to hearing the sky’s falling and then it doesn’t. I don’t know what I can trust,” Ostby said.

The facility serves about 200 meals a day, about half at the center and half through the Meals on Wheels program. The Center also offers an assortment of classes and activities, all of which cost money to provide. In order to completely fund the operations, “we’d have to have a salmon barbecue every month,” Ostby said.

Uncertainty over funding sources makes planning all the more difficult. Administrators have been exploring ways to bring in more funds and continue to serve as many people as possible.

“We need to wean ourselves away from the government money and be more self sufficient. We are looking at ways to do that,” he said. “We want to do some endowments, annuities and trusts so we’re not so dependent on government funds.”

Federal funding accounts for about 65 percent of their budget. “It’s sink or swim as the government goes,” Ostby said

The Center also receives funding from the state of Washington. The delay in adopting a budget July 1 would have meant the closing of the operation, Ostby said. “It’s difficult to navigate the ups and downs. When you don’t hear rumblings about the budget or the economy, things seem to be going along so well. We are here at the mercy of the taxpayers. meals program had to make cuts like everyone else. We have 100 home-delivered-meals clients. What are they going to do?” he said. Many clients don’t have family close to them, some are caregivers for an ill spouse and often, the delivered meals help keep them living at home, which helps them and saves money in the long run.

But beyond its funding concerns, the Center is about having fun, and excitement is building for Friday’s event. In addition to the salmon, the dinner will include a salad bar, a baked-bean dish, corn, French bread, beverages and sherbet for dessert. Wine will be available for purchase. Light music will accompany dinner so attendees can relax and enjoy conversations. The organizers are expecting a good crowd, as the dinner is very popular.

“We’ve been pretty busy the last nine years,” Ostby said. “And you have great odds of winning the raffle prizes.”

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