By SCOTT PESZNECKER
Rob Chabot stood in front of a new, silver stove, spooning freshly cooked beef stew onto paper plates he held on a tray. The beefy aroma wafted into the room behind him where seniors gathered at long, rectangular tables.
Despite not having county, state or federal funding, noon is still lunchtime at the Calaveras Senior Center.
Since the Area 12 Agency on Aging removed its senior nutrition programs and kitchen equipment from the San Andreas facility in February, seniors have been holding potluck lunches.
But soon, Chabot said, the seniors won't have to do any cooking.
"We're going to go into our own lunch program," senior center Coordinator Chabot said. "We're going to have it right here. We'll invite everybody."
The center's kitchen has a new stove, oven, freezer and refrigerator purchased at discounted prices with about $4,000 worth of donations that came in during the past two months.
"The system we have going on right now is the best it's ever been," said Glencoe resident Vi Edwards, 69, a volunteer at the senior center since 1996.
Chabot said he planned to request an inspection from the county Environmental Health Department to certify that the senior center is up to restaurant standards.
"This place is going to succeed, and it's going to be better than ever," Chabot said.
Area 12 cited a need to cut costs when it pulled its program services and equipment from the senior center.
It was the fifth senior meals program provider to run in the red. Area 12 provided senior meals between July and March, and racked up a $43,000 deficit for home-delivered and cafeteria-style meals throughout the county. The deficit has not been paid, and Area 12 has contracted with outside groups to provide meals in Calaveras County, as it does in its other member counties, including Tuolumne.
Meals on Wheels meals are still being delivered, and Area 12 also coordinated restaurant-based nutrition programs at Rodz Grill in Angels Camp and the Station 49 Diner in San Andreas. The meals cost $2.50, but only people who ate at the senior center before Area 12's departure can take part in the restaurant programs.