Healy Senior Center - Redway, CA

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Published in the Dec. 29, 2015 issues of
The Independent and Redwood Times
by Andy Caffrey

A week ago, I attended my first meeting of the Healy Senior Center's book club, which was fun (I was the only guy, which was a kick).

I've only recently looked into the Healy after I became a recipient of their frozen meal program. Did you know there would be no Meals on Wheels program in SoHum without the Healy center? The hospital used to run the program but was going to abandon it because of the costs involved, until the shoestring-budgeted Healy center took it on.

As I write this, Director Melissa King is out today buying Christmas wish list items for the most impoverished seniors in our area. She told me a heartbreaking story of one gentleman whose wish one year was that he had a trailer to live in that didn't allow the wind to blast though it all the time. Apparently some very cool men and women then went out to his trailer with some plywood sheets and took care of things for the guy.

There are a lot of seniors around here for whom the one meal per day we get from Meals on Wheels and the Frozen Meals program is the only thing they have to eat all day. So they'll cut in half the one chicken breast they get and have half for lunch and half for dinner.

We live in one of the poorest counties in California. People usually think Humboldt County is only populated with rich pot growers, but that's not true. The timber industry has been gutted from here and tourism is not robust enough to maintain general prosperity, and, of course, we are in a marijuana recession to boot.

As I ran for Congress in 2012, I pointed out that we live in one of the Third World counties of the 2nd Congressional district. In Marin County the median family income is $85,000. Here it is only $35,000. It probably hits the elderly the hardest, especially those who live alone in shacks or trailers up in the hills far from any services.

And the pot growers are no longer as generous with nonprofits around here like they used to be. The Healy scrapes by on a meager $170,000 per year, including the modest payroll for four employees, all of the food, and all other expenses for maintaining the building and running the Meals on Wheels program.

They don't have money for a janitor, so if a senior has an accident in the bathroom, as often as not it's the director of the Healy who gets on her hands and knees to clean everything up. All the while, all of the staffers have the cheeriest smiles for everybody all the time.

And they piece this together from tiny grants of $500-$1,000 and the $6 most seniors pay when they attend the lunch, although that is not required in order to eat. And often they get beat out on these grants by the bigger local nonprofits like the Mateel Community Center, Sanctuary Forest, and many others because Healy is much smaller and we have a lot of nonprofits around here worthy of support.

So when something like their freezer goes out, it's a big worry. They still haven't got it fixed and so much food they worked so hard to raise money for and prepare is at risk of spoilage.

So if you can, please put the Healy on your post-Christmas gift list, even if all you can send is $10. Those gifts really cheer them up! Every year you can also contribute to help purchase something on the seniors Christmas wish list. I 'm sure if someone is on the list and the Healy hasn't received enough to cover it, that money is going to come out of the pocket of one of the underpaid staffers. So your gift can help out both of them! If you have more than that to help then you can sponsor a senior's food for $30 per week.

Something else you can do is use amazon's smile program so that amazon.com will automatically send a little piece of your purchase money to the Healy. Just log in and shop at smile.amazon.com every time and select the Healy Senior Center of Southern Humboldt Inc to be the recipient of a percentage of all your purchases. This costs you nothing and all donations are made by Amazon.

If you are local and shop at Rays or Shop Smart, why not do what I just did? Sign up your All Access Rewards card to credit your purchase points to the Healy instead of yourself. That's easy to do. Again, set up an online account and select the Healy as the recipient of your award points at gorays.com. And the way that program has recently changed, they zero out your points at the end of each quarter, so if you haven't spent $500 there over that period, you aren't going to get any rewards at all anyway! Why not give those points to a worthy non-profit?

And I'm looking for a KMUD programmer who would like to have Melissa on a talk show some time soon to talk about Healy. She will be an excellent guest. She can touch a lot of hearts. She's touched mine. I would be happy to help out with such a show.

Oh! And we're also looking for musicians who would perform there. I'd love to help them put on a monthly gig to help bring younger people and seniors together at some fun events and raise a little money each month. If you are one of my environmentalist musician friends, in particular, I'm asking you to help next time you're in the area.

Until now, I made the mistake of thinking the vibe in the Healy Senior Center would be like going into an old folks home, and I would feel out of place. It's not! It's a wonderful place full of joy. All are welcome for the lunch on Monday, Weds., and Thursdays. You can sign up for the newsletter to stay on top of the upcoming events.

- Andy Caffrey