City officials are working to keep meal deliveries coming to seniors after a fire destroyed the Delano Senior Citizens Center in the 400 block of Jefferson Street early Thursday morning.
Lito Morillo, director of Kern County's Aging and Adult Services Department, said the county contracted with the city to provide meals to seniors at the center. Those who visited were able to participate in a variety of activities.
"They go there to socialize," Morillo said. "One of the benefits to having a senior center is to meet friends, play cards, play pool, play bingo."
And the meals for the seniors were cooked there too. Morillo said he's heard the site is a total loss, and it contained commercial kitchen equipment including walk-in refrigerators.
There's another senior center in Delano at 925 Ellington St., and Morillo said they're going to prepare the meals at another location and deliver them to the Ellington Street center and to homebound seniors in the city. He estimated they served about 90 seniors daily at the Jefferson center and delivered another 70 meals to those who are homebound.
"I'm leaving with sadness," Leo Medina said after arriving for his usual noontime meal and finding the building destroyed.
Medina said he went to the center for meals and to socialize.
Kern County firefighters said crews arrived about 4:15 a.m. and found flames coming from about 50 percent of the roof area of the 9,000-square-foot building. Crews tried to check rooms for fire and punctured holes in the ceiling, but the incident commander ordered all firefighters out because the roof was compromised.
About 80 percent of the building's roof collapsed inside itself. No injuries were reported and the cause has not yet been determined.
Delano City Manager Maribel Reyna said the city's first priority is to the employees who worked at the center and the seniors who went there. A local McDonald's provided free meals to the seniors on Thursday, and she said the city is working to make sure Thursday is the only day where meal service was disrupted.
"It's a tremendous loss to our seniors that gathered there," Reyna said.
A damage assessment is under way, but Reyna said she estimated that the center and its comments were worth $1.5 million or more. She said they're trying to get the word out to seniors to meet at the Ellington center because the meals will be delivered there.
The Jefferson center had served as a cooling center in past summers.