STAFFORD TOWNSHIP – Since 2011, when the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders opened the doors of the Ocean County Southern Service Center, Route 9, here, residents have been able to conveniently access a host of county programs – from senior services to applying for passports.
And in 2013, the Freeholders opened the senior nutrition site at the location.
Now, based on its popularity and its convenient location, major renovations are coming to the Southern Service Center, according to Ocean County Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari, Chairman of Senior Services.
"I am very happy to announce these upgrades at the Southern Service Center that will help with our senior nutrition program, other senior programs and provide necessary updates to the building which was once a gymnasium," Vicari said. "These changes will provide for a more efficient and convenient senior nutrition program, and when necessary will result in the county having an additional emergency evacuation shelter available during storms or other weather events."
A contract for the work is expected to be awarded by year's end and the work will take about six months to complete.
The work will include reconfiguring the inside of the building to provide 2,000 square feet of additional service area for the county's senior nutrition program allowing for expanded meal preparation.
"We will expand the current kitchen on site," Vicari said. "The county's senior nutrition program provides more than 1,000 meals daily for our senior population.
"This program serves as a lifeline for many of our elderly residents living alone. It helps them maintain their independence and the volunteers and drivers help provide a daily wellness check for many seniors that can no longer get around on their own," Vicari said. "Nutrition support is a key ingredient to good health for older adults."
Seniors in the county's congregate nutrition program from Lacey Township south to Little Egg Harbor use the nutrition site at the Southern Service Center.
Vicari noted that socialization, recreation, educational programs and health screenings will be offered at the nutrition site.
"These programs provide great benefits for our seniors, especially those who are frail and in need," Vicari said. "It is less expensive to provide food for one-year for a senior then it is to cover the cost of a day in an emergency room."
The upgraded facility will include a renovated senior nutrition site that will hold over 200 people. The project includes better storage facilities, expanded administrative space for client services, and more refrigeration.
"When completed, we will see easier and better handling of food from kitchen to delivery truck to patrons," Vicari said.
The project also includes lowering the ceiling of the facility and the installation of sprinklers – a major safety upgrade.
The lowered ceiling will make acoustics better for older adults and at the same time creates storage space to accommodate shelf stable meals and paper goods.
The shelf meals are distributed in weather emergencies or extended holidays.
"We distributed over 10,000 of them last year alone," Vicari said. "We make every effort to assure our seniors do not miss a meal – no matter the weather."
Jackie Rohan, Director of Senior Services, said the county's plans will allow for the expansion of the county's meal production capability in the south along with consolidating staff and resources to the one location.
"At the same time, this project will create a more efficient, centralized operation, with better opportunities for cost control and decreased waste, and create one production location to enhance communication for both staff and consumers," she said.
Community Services Inc., the county's senior meal provider, during renovations, will continue to produce the meals for seniors at the Ocean County Northern Resource Center, Lakewood. And a smaller congregate site will continue to be operated at the Southern Service Center during the work.
"We do not expect any interruption in this service," Vicari said.
When needed, the expanded facility will act as an emergency center with updated communication technology including television monitors and a projection screen. In addition, the building will be powered by two generators during power outages.
Vicari recalled the facility played an integral role following Superstorm Sandy.
"The Southern Service Center became a focal point in the county's efforts to assist residents in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in October 2012," Vicari said. "During the days after the storm, the National Guard was housed at the facility."
In addition, because St. Francis Center on Long Beach Island was heavily damaged by the storm, the center relocated its food pantry, some counseling services and the home delivered meal program to the Southern Service Center.
The building also played an integral role in the November 2012 Presidential Election and the Federal Emergency Management Administration used part of the facility as a regional Disaster Recovery Center. And, the center has provided offices for the State Housing and Rental Assistance Program (SHRAP) since it first started in 2013.
"The building has already proved to be a good location for helping our residents no matter the circumstances," Vicari said.
The Ocean County Southern Service Center, located at the corner of Routes 9 and 72 in Manahawkin was originally opened to provide residents of the southern portion of the county with the opportunity to access some local senior services programs and the services of the Ocean County Clerk.
Other services like the Ocean County Surrogate and the Veterans Services Bureau are available by appointment at the center.
The facility was the former St. Mary Parish Center when bought by the County.
"We are very pleased with the work that goes on at this facility which provides easy accessibility to programs and services in a growing area," Vicari said. "I have always been committed to helping the frail, the elderly and the disabled. This expansion will help in making certain no senior goes hungry in Ocean County."