Mission center resumes meals for seniors

Mission Housing Authority

After a brief interruption, meal service at Mission Palm Plaza Development senior center has resumed despite a rejection of the money to fund the service by the Mission Housing Authority board.

The service became a point of contention between members of the board when two of them — Connie Garza and Irma Flores Lopez — objected to the service being available to all seniors, not just tenants of the housing authority.

“We’re concerned about safety,” Flores Lopez said, adding that they were working on rules regulating how visitors could enter and requiring them to sign in. “But there’s nothing in place to safeguard the confidentiality and privacy of the residents.”

However, the availability of the service to all seniors was a stipulation of the agency that funded the service — the Area Agency on Aging, or AAA.

AAA provided $40,000 to the Mission Housing Authority that was used to fund three part-time employees at Palm Plaza.

Among the services enabled by having those employees on duty included transporting residents to doctor appointments, the grocery store, etc. and serving meals to the elderly.

However, Garza and Lopez disagreed the terms of the funds, citing the safety of their tenants, and thus voted against accepting the money during a board meeting on Sept. 18.

With board member Ricardo Garcia being absent from the meeting and board member Guadalupe Ozuna abstaining from the vote, the measure failed. Board Chairman Romeo de la Garza did not vote as he only votes in the case of a tie.

Though they would no longer have those funds to pay the employees, officials had said the meals themselves were provided by Amigos Del Valle and therefore would continue to be available to their tenants — though they would no longer be prepared and served by staff in a communal setting.

They soon discovered, though, that Amigos Del Valle had the same stipulation for the meals — that they be available to all, not just tenants of the housing authority.

After a complaint was filed by one of the residents who participated in the service, the program was resumed and meals are continuing to be served at Palm Plaza — available to all seniors, according to Jaime Ayala, deputy director of the housing authority.

Flores Lopez argued that the meals should never have been interrupted and said there was an option to have Amigos Del Valle transport the tenants back and forth to their offices for the meals. However, she said the tenants were never given that option by the housing authority personnel.

Ayala said that option was strictly up to the tenants who wanted to use it and noted the service was available, not just to the tenants, but anybody that came in from outside.

“If they want to, they can contact this number and Amigos Del Valle can come and pick them up,” Ayala said. “It’s strictly up to them; we’re not going to force it on them, it’s just being made available to them.”

While the meal service is back under the same conditions as they were previously, Ayala said that because of the loss of AAA funding, three positions were eliminated. However, one of the employees transferred to another position that was available.

In explaining her vote to reject funding from AAA, she argued the housing authority had other funding available and therefore didn’t need it.

Again, she reiterated that her main concern was the safety of their elderly tenants, explaining that outsiders would come in to the development’s dining area.

“That’s our concern and people would come in with their providers, with their boyfriends, so on and so forth,” she said, adding that none of the staff funded by AAA was trained in CPR or first aid.

“If you care about the elderly, you need to have qualified personnel overseeing the activities of the elderly,” she said. “We just feel like they were just trying to get the funding, not to use their own pocket money that the housing authority has.”

“And I know it sounds cruel on paper, I know, but I stand by my word,” she said. “We don’t want anyone going hungry, of course not; we want to improve things.”