Frederica Senior Center looks to expansion to handle booming membership

FREDERICA – The Frederica Senior Center is busting at the seams, but members and staff think they’ve carved out the perfect answer: expansion.

Walking through the few halls of the current facility yields many happy faces from both members and staff excited about the possibility of expanding onto the building at hopefully no cost to the membership.

“I’ve been putting in for grant after grant. The people here deserve the best. I’m hoping we won’t have to pay for this expansion at all with the help of grants and fundraisers. They need a bigger facility,” Executive Director Renee Hoffman explained. “We’re in the black, but we just wouldn’t be able to afford extra without the help.”

With a mere 266 members in 2012, the center now boasts more than 1,000 members with a projected membership for 2016 breaking the charts at 1,300.

The Frederica Senior Center has seen its membership jump by more than 750 seniors since 2011, according to Executive Director Renee Hoffman, who says homemade meals are to thank. Special to The Journal

The Frederica Senior Center has seen its membership jump by more than 750 seniors since 2011, according to Executive Director Renee Hoffman, who says homemade meals are to thank. Special to The Journal

“We need more space. We already knocked out a wall to make our cafeteria larger, but that’s not enough,” Ms. Hoffman said.

Staff and volunteers provide a wide variety of activities for members, but even the staff say that’s not what drives the membership numbers up.

“It’s the food,” Ms. Hoffman added. “We’re the only senior center in Delaware that offers free and reduced meals for low income seniors and it’s all homemade on the premises.”

Many seniors, she went on to explain, receive less than $700 a month. “It’s not enough to live off of,” she added.

Ms. Hoffman budgets $100,000 a year for food alone. Of that, the center receives $25,000 in grants, about $50,000 in revenue from sales of the meals and many other donations from Cisco, local restaurants and other generous donors.

To come up with the rest and to help fund the expansion project, the center’s membership holds monthly cake, 50/50 and basket raffles. They also have a popular seafood feast, Jonesboy dance and the annual wild game dinner.

This year, the dinner will be held in March and will feature the usual muskrat with “our famous muskrat gravy,” she said. “Last year, we actually cooked a beaver. We’ve had rattlesnake, frog legs and the alligator that just tasted horrible. But the old-timers think it’s the best food you’ve ever eaten.”

She takes pride in offering “down home” style food that many of the seniors grew up with.

“It’s worth it. Meals on Wheels provides food to a lot of senior centers in the area, but it’s not enough food to fill you up. Here, they get what they grew up on,” she added.

The addition to the building will allow for more recreational, kitchen and dining spaces to help accommodate the growing membership which is open to anyone 50-yearsold or older, or disabled.

The current goal is to add 1,800 sq. ft. to the dining room which would yield another 150 seats.

Ms. Hoffman said the center has been awarded more than $180,000 towards the project from varying organizations and she expects to need at least another $50,000 to also provide electrical and HVAC services to the addition.

After all the planning is said and done, she hopes to break ground this spring.

Kenny Smith, member of the Frederica Senior Center, proudly displays a wooden cardinal he carved at the center. The cardinal was one of the first woodcarving projects completed after the woodcarving program began. Special to The Journal

Kenny Smith, member of the Frederica Senior Center, proudly displays a wooden cardinal he carved at the center. The cardinal was one of the first woodcarving projects completed after the woodcarving program began. Special to The Journal

“This is only possible because of those who are generous to give. I just keep doing it because these were our mentors, our teachers… they are important,” she said.

Annual membership dues are $20 each year. Meals are cooked at the center and served buffet style Monday through Friday at noon for a donation of $4.00 for members and $6.00 for guests and non-members. The center also offers free and low-cost meals to those in need.

The Frederica Senior Center boasts an outreach coordinator to help members needing assistance with food, shelter, medical bills and other needs. Health professionals also frequently visit the building to offer services.

Massage therapist Nancy Schroeck started at the center by offering her own services to the membership.

“As soon as I turned 50, I joined. It’s just so joyful here. You walk in the door and the first thing you see is their smile,” she said.

Fellow member Jean DeFrancisco agreed said the center feels like a second home.

“I don’t know where the money comes from, but it comes. They’re so sweet here, especially Renee,” she explained.

“She really puts out the effort and finds out all the answers on that Internet. I don’t even know how to turn one on. This place, it’s a family here. It’s enjoyable, relaxing… it’s alive. And really, if you go home hungry, it’s your own fault.”

Jennifer Antonik can be reached at mc@newszap.com

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