Financial concerns hit MASS


By BRANDON LACHANCE

Staff writer

MENDOTA – When listing the services available at Mendota Area Senior Services (MASS), it’s easy to forget a few or run out of room if jotting them down.

However, if MASS doesn’t receive some financial help, some of those services may be left off of the list on purpose, cut, or diminished.

“It’s gotten really serious. Obviously, COVID-19 took a toll on us because we weren’t able to hold a lot of our normal fundraisers like the spaghetti dinner because you couldn’t have those groups of people together,” said Rayanne Sester, the MASS Executive Director who has been involved with the organization for 29 of its 44 years of operation. “Donations were down, are down, and continue to go down because people are struggling. With the prices of everything rising, they’re trying to hold their own.

“Our federal and state funding is part of the problem also. I was just composing an email to one of our legislative offices, so they’re aware. With our grants, we’re required to spend our own money for all of our expenses first. Then we report them on a monthly basis to be re-reimbursed.

“That’s where the problem lies because sometimes, we wait for months to be reimbursed with those monies. We’re spending money, and if we’re not getting donations or not getting it back from the federal and state grants…the coffer goes empty. There’s no money there.”

The grants Sester writes brings in 45 percent of MASS’ funding as the grants are overseen by Western Illinois Area Agency Aging, who reports them to the Illinois Department of Aging, and it releases the money.

Sester said the process is slow, but it’s almost half of the funding. The rest of the organization’s funding comes from the United Way of the Illinois Valley, and fundraisers and donations.

MASS and its Board of Directors are trying to find the best solution without cutting any corners, declining the services offered, or losing hours in the office.

“I have one board member who says, ‘We need to close.’ That’s not the solution. Plus, we can’t really do that because we signed a contract to provide services,” Sester said. “Obviously, if it gets to the point where I can’t pay the staff – my main priority along with paying the taxes and keeping the vans going – we’ll have to make some cuts.

“We’re trying to cut expenses everywhere we can. I talked to my staff this week and told them what was happening. I pretty much carry everything on my shoulders, but I felt the staff deserved to be told since it will be out in public. I said, ‘This is where we’re at and MASS is broke. If we don’t start generating cash flow back in here, we’re going to have to start cutting services and possibly hours.’”

MASS employs 10 people with three of them being full-time and seven of them part-time.

Sester is joined regularly by Jill Hartley, Information and Assistance Specialist, and Laurie Moore, Outreach Specialist, who assist seniors with any and all needs including Medicaid, Medicare, and any other senior benefit or discount.

There is an event coordinator, a route assigner, and van drivers to take all La Salle County clients to all appointments or errands.

“If we have to cut any programs or services, it’s such a hard choice because they’re all really vital to me,” Sester said. “The Senior Center, we’re here anyway, so as long as I know they can be self-sufficient with their Bingo and cards, that’s fine. We’d probably have to cut the INA position and the outreach position by a day a week.

“It would be little by little, but people are still going to call. Then it’s just me and I can’t do it all. I need them. It’s report time and all of our reports are due by the end of this week. I know I can’t do it all and it would be terrible.”

Expenses have risen for MASS. Gas prices have gone through the rough through the entire country, while MASS has also had a rise in rent of the senior center as well as the garage housing the vans and insurance rates.

Sester, as of June 7, hasn’t opened the report of how much money was spent on gas for the vans in May because, ‘I don’t want to risk having a heart attack.’

Besides cutting employee hours, other ideas of financial restriction may be to stop transportation for a day, lessen spending on events such as the Mother’s Day Tea Party, the Volunteer Recognition Party, monthly potlucks where MASS supplies the meat, the Father’s Day Breakfast, and caregiver services.

MASS partnered with Sullivan’s Foods during COVID-19 to deliver groceries. Clients call Sullivan’s, the store gathers the items, and MASS drivers deliver the plastic or paper sacks on Tuesdays.

The service has been free of charge and has included not just Mendota, but surrounding towns such as Paw Paw, West Brooklyn and LaMoille. On Tuesday, June 7, MASS delivered to over 30 homes.

With the price of gas and money needing to be saved, MASS may speak to Sullivan’s about only in-town deliveries or other changes.

Sester has sent letters to LaSalle County towns, cities, business, and plans to mail to residential homes seeking donations. She sent a letter to the City of Mendota in April and went to the Monday, June 6 City Council Meeting to share the danger MASS may be closed to close its doors.

MASS has a wish list on Amazon where people can order items for the organization and MASS is linked with smile.amazon where all orders bring in a percentage.

Donations can be made to Mendota Area Senior Services at 1901 Tom Merwin Dr., Mendota, IL 61342, or call (815) 539-7700.

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