Prairie Oasis closure leaving void in essential meal services

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Prairie Oasis Seniors Centre will permanently close its doors after more than 50 years of serving the community.

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Prairie Oasis Seniors Centre will permanently close its doors after more than 50 years of serving the community.

The non-profit’s board of directors voted to dissolve Prairie Oasis as of July 22, according to a letter released Wednesday by executive director Amanda Fast. The organization’s Meals on Wheels service as well as its programming and activities will end on July 15.

The closure of the non-profit was largely driven by rising inflation rates, which affect the cost of programming. These issues were only magnified by the closure of Prairie Oasis at times during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chelsea Kemp/The Brandon Sun Prairie Oasis Seniors Centre staff Amanda Fast (left), Vince Felix, Jessica Zajaros, Elizabeth Morrow and Jordan Dakers stand outside the community centre Thursday.

“We couldn’t run activities. We couldn’t run fundraisers,” Fast said. “We just couldn’t keep up with the demands of what the centre was.”

The non-profit was able to open its doors and had seen an increase in membership, but it was not enough to cover the costs of daily operations, staff wages or the Meals on Wheels program.

“The cost of groceries and food is rising, we can’t keep up … meals need to be a minimum of $13 to break even.”

The hill of inflation they needed to summit grew into a mountain, she said. In 2022 alone, she estimates the grocery bill at Prairie Oasis increased by about 40 per cent by the end of June.

The organization has been running a skeleton crew for the last couple of months. Six employees were on-site: three kitchen workers, a cleaner and two upfront staff. Fast said the cleaner and a dishwasher were recently laid off before the official decision to close.

For Prairie Oasis, the shuttering of Everyone Eats in April was the proverbial canary in the coal mine, Fast said. Everyone Eats, a pay-what-you-can meal program, was a main source of income for the non-profit.

“Within the last couple of months, we knew the need was dire. We knew for the Everyone Eats Brandon program they had been in the same boat and were looking for funding everywhere. If they’re looking for funding everywhere then that means we definitely need to have a fire under our butts looking for funding.”

Since then they worked to match the income generated by Everyone Eats, but they were unable to find success.

She applauded Everyone Eats founders Ted Dzogan and Ross Robinson, because they also managed to build community and volunteer connections for Prairie Oasis while feeding people.

“That’s pretty much what’s kept us going — the different volunteers that are willing to come in and do the time here and there.”

For Fast, the end of Meals on Wheels in Brandon is especially heartbreaking.

“There will not be Meals on Wheels in Brandon. It has run for 54 years and now she’s done,” Fast said. “For me, it’s personal because I know names of these individuals. It wasn’t just seniors; Meals on Wheels had been opened up to the entirety of the community.”

There will be individuals living with disabilities and seniors who will not be able to access essential meals now, she said. The services also offered peace of mind for people out of the province who used the service to ensure family members received a hot meal.

She hopes to see funding provided by Prairie Mountain Health to Prairie Oasis be diverted to Seniors for Seniors once the closure is completed.

Prairie Mountain Health (PMH) told the Sun in an email it has collaborated with the Prairie Oasis Seniors Centre in the past through a partnership agreement that provides grant funding for services. Having recently been notified of the organization’s decision, PMH is currently evaluating what the next steps will be moving forward.

The future of the Prairie Oasis Seniors Centre building will be determined by Manitoba Housing.

In an email statement to the Sun, Manitoba Housing confirmed the space at 241 Eighth St. is leased by Prairie Oasis. Clients are able to inform Manitoba Housing of the intention to end a lease agreement within a reasonable time, said the statement.

“The province is aware Prairie Oasis Seniors Centre recently posted on Facebook that they are closing their doors July 22, but the organization has not advised Manitoba Housing that they are ending their lease,” said the statement. “Manitoba Housing makes vacant units available for others to rent and ensures any available commercial space is leased to an organization that fits the core values of Manitoba Housing.”

Fast is encouraging those affected by the closure to reach out to Brandon Seniors for Seniors to see if the organization has programming or resources available.

The closure of Meals on Wheels will be felt the most in the seniors community and by Seniors for Seniors, said executive director Rob Lavin. The non-profit can offer similar programs and services aside from Meals on Wheels.

“We are trying to make the transition easy. It’s a horrible situation, it’s really, really sad for everybody,” Lavin said. “We’re trying to make sure that we try to help them transition and try to help the people in the community.”

Seniors for Seniors offers the Friday meal program Dinner is Served, an initiative similar to Meals on Wheels. The non-profit is prepared to take on Meals for Wheels clients in the program and integrate them into the initiative.

Clients interested in joining the program can email Seniors for Seniors at reception@brandons4s.ca or phone 204-571-2050.

Seniors for Seniors is also looking to recruit new volunteers to help build up the capacity needed to provide meals for displaced Prairie Oasis clients.

“We have all the seniors in the community with their best interests in mind,” Lavin said. “We just ask that people be patience because this is not going to happen overnight.”

» ckemp@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @The_ChelseaKemp

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