Meals on Wheels People create new diner in Vancouver

The organization will use $200,000 gift from BofA’s Annual Neighborhood Builder Award

Marcie Kessel, development officer with Meals on Wheels People, with the check from Bank of America. Courtesy of Meals on Wheels People

Bank of America has just announced Meals on Wheels People as its 2019 Neighborhood Builder grant recipient for the Portland-Vancouver market. The nonprofit was selected for its commitment to building stronger communities by ensuring the Portland Metro region’s senior population receives regular, nutritious meals along with autonomy and companionship.  

Through the Neighborhood Builders program, each year the bank provides a local nonprofit with a unique combination of leadership training, $200,000 in flexible funding, volunteer support and a network of peer organizations across the country. Last year’s local winner was All Hands Raised.

Meals on Wheels People will use this $200,000 grant to create and open a first-of-its-kind new diner open to the public. The diner’s unique model will aim to achieve several things: provide choice for senior diners, create a welcoming atmosphere with high quality, locally sourced food, and establish an eating establishment that appeals to seniors, families and the business community. Those age 60 and older who enroll in the Meals on Wheels People program have the option of ordering off a special menu, which meets Older American Act dietary guidelines, and is available on a donation basis. Revenue from paying customers will help support the Meals on Wheels program in Clark County and allow the nonprofit organization to better serve more rural parts of the county. The diner is open daily for breakfast and lunch, is on a bus line for access and serves comfort food sourced from local ingredients.

“In every community we serve, we’re continuously assessing that community’s changing, evolving needs,” said Suzanne Washington, CEO of Meals on Wheels People. “And while many of our core clients are homebound seniors who benefit from our home delivery services, our research showed that more seniors locally are actually healthy and mobile and would benefit from more socialization opportunities. Out of that, the idea for this new diner was born.”

Washington adds that seniors will now have choices around when, what and with whom to eat. She noted that today’s seniors do not fit into the same demographic as seniors a decade or two ago, as they want more menu choice, flexibility in dining times and a more traditional restaurant experience. Besides providing a reliable place for seniors to get a meal, the restaurant — which is called The Diner Vancouver — also allows them to socialize with family, friends, neighbors and patrons.

“This is a new approach that hasn’t been done before within the Meals on Wheels organization,” said Roger Hinshaw, Bank of America’s market president for Oregon and Southwest Washington. “Here in the Portland-Vancouver area, we’re both an entrepreneurial and philanthropic community, and the thoughtfulness that went into this new diner model really interested us at Bank of America. This project is truly addressing an identified community need in a creative and innovative way. This unique project is an example of what our Neighborhood Builders program seeks to support, which is impactful programs and solutions that address local community needs.”

The Diner Vancouver recently opened to the public and is now operational. It is located at 5303 E. Mill Plain Blvd., in Vancouver. It is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily. More can be learned about The Diner Vancouver, including the menu offerings, at www.thediner.org.

Washington said that so far, feedback from the community has been strong.

“Right out of the gate, business has been robust,” she said. “In the first few days we were open, we’ve had amazingly positive response from seniors and the community alike. We’ve also seen a lot of multi-generational diners coming in together. The Diner is truly moving us closer towards achieving our vision of no senior going hungry or lonely — all while providing an additional revenue stream, and creating new workforce development opportunities in the region. I’d call that a win-win-win!”
In addition to sharing the news about 2019’s Neighborhood Builder winner, BofA’s Hinshaw also relayed that going forward, the Portland-Vancouver market will select two local nonprofits each year to be recipients of Neighborhood Builder $200,000 awards, up from one in recent years. Local nonprofits can learn more at www.bankofamerica.com/neighborhoodbuilders.

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Joanna Yorke is the managing editor of the Vancouver Business Journal. She has worked in the journalism field since 2010 after graduating from the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University in Pullman. Yorke worked at The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground for six years and then worked at and helped start ClarkCountyToday.com.