BOZEMAN, MT — The Bozeman Senior Center is among the latest feeling the weight of the worker shortage felt nationwide - and are already making decisions to cut some services.
When it comes to worker shortages, even volunteer shortages, everywhere is feeling them, including in the kitchen of the Bozeman Senior Social Center and when it comes to Meals on Wheels, that’s another program of many here that have really felt the weight.
Take the cooks, for example.
Both of them are 80-plus years young but in that same sense, Meals on Wheels volunteers, other workers and other volunteers say shortages have become too much.
“I try to make them smile because everybody needs to smile,” says Brenda Liden, who has volunteered at the Bozeman Senior Center for about six months.
For Liden, making people smile from the senior center kitchen keeps her coming back.
“Even on days off, I always come here and help out,” Liden says. “When I walk in the door, I am home.
When Brenda walks into the kitchen, right above “volunteers,” there are two words that those alongside her at the senior center agree with: “superheroes.”
“I know they have at least one hot meal and I just wish more people would come and see me,” Liden says.
“We have been solely depending upon two ladies who are 84 years old to serve our meals, both congregate and Meals on Wheels, and the rest has all been volunteers,” says Shannon Bondy, Bozeman Senior Center executive director. “You can imagine how hard that is for ladies in their 80s to pick up the heavy pots and pans. It’s just become too much.”
And now a nationwide problem has found residence here, in and out of their kitchen.
While the center was closed for 482 days during the height of the pandemic, staff and volunteers continued to work the whole time.
“We’ve been forced to be put in a situation where we have to look at what is absolutely essential and what is essential are those people at home that have no family, that have no way to get out of the house to go to a restaurant, to go to the grocery store,” Bondy says. “They have to have those meals.”
Dinners used to be five days a week.
As of last week, that’s changed, with hot meals from Tuesday through Thursday and frozen dinners on Mondays and Fridays and with executive director Shannon Bondy still looking on the bright side.
“We have been through three kitchen managers in the last three months,” Bondy says. “We were really fortunate. We had some of our retired staff that had been willing to come back and help us out to get the meals out.”
That’s the next part…
With more than 48,000 meals delivered in the last fiscal year, Bondy says weekends are now not possible.
And on each given day?
That’s 130 meals that are relied upon for delivery and only about 50 drivers that do it now.
“Fifty percent of those people cannot even afford a small suggested donation for that meal which tells you what a shortfall the senior center is,” Bondy says.
“It’s important,” Liden says. “I wish I could do more.”
That is where both Shannon and Brenda say the hope remains…
“There is so much love and generosity in community, in people, whether it is businesses, organizations, individuals, we have to keep that,” Bondy says. “That is going to get all of us through this.”
“You know, I really enjoy this place,” Liden says. “They make me feel like family. I love them.”
The new dates will stay in effect until more help can fill the spaces.
Until then, Shannon, Brenda and each person behind the senior center says they will keep it going.
“You see all of these guys and people and sometimes they are not feeling good or whatever and I try to make them smile and feel better,” Liden says. “It’s important. I wish I could do more.”