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Seniors Get Meals Despite Glitch

A payment delay threatens delivery of food for 320 recipients in Compton, but an emergency council session saves the day.

August 17, 2004|Christiana Sciaudone | Times Staff Writer

After an administrative glitch threatened to shut down a Meals on Wheels program serving 320 seniors in Compton, the City Council early Monday morning restored funding to the program.

The glitch had delayed a quarterly payment to the nutrition program of the Dickison Community Lighted Schools Inc., which includes Meals on Wheels, and director Delores Zurita feared she would be unable to provide seniors their regular meals Monday.

The City Council is on hiatus in August, but agreed to hold an emergency meeting at 7 a.m. to keep the dining operation open.

The program serves about 180 homebound seniors and about 140 seniors at three locations.

"The council did not know of this until Friday," said Councilman Isadore Hall. "We want to make sure the food program is not hindered by a lack of good administration."

The issue arose when the city received a bill from Dickison Community Lighted Schools last week for $37,500 for the first quarter of the fiscal year, which began on July 1. The city gives the food program $150,000 annually. Los Angeles County also funds the program, with more than $250,000 annually, but has not yet sent money for this quarter.

According to the city manager's office, the city funds were allotted and available, but the council had not yet passed a resolution to release them.

But Michael Heriot was fired as city manager by the council earlier this summer, and the paperwork to keep the program running was left undone, Hall said.

Zurita, director of the seniors program, said she believed the money was available and did not expect any snags in getting payments.

"I was trusting Michael Heriot, the city manager. I had all the faith in him," she said.

When Zurita found out she couldn't get the check last week, she was shocked.

"It's like being hit in the head with a stick," she said.

With one council member out of town this week, the remaining four gathered, along with the city clerk, attorney and manager, in what Hall called an unprecedented emergency meeting.

The resolution passed unanimously and the council members, figuring that they should take advantage of the situation, moved on to other business.

"Since we were meeting, we thought may as well do some other things," Hall said.

Zurita said that in previous years, when money from the City Council or from the county was late, she would use her own funds to keep the kitchen open. She couldn't afford it anymore, though, she said.

Zurita received sufficient donations Monday to keep the seniors served, until she could pick up a check from the City Council.

Some clients had heard of the problem with City Hall and went to lunch at the kitchen's North Alameda Street headquarters, uncertain that they would be served. To their relief, a meal of chicken in gravy was waiting.

"This is the place where seniors should have their meals," said Mary Clark, 77, who has been coming to the center for years. "It's a blessing, and I hope they never close it down."

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