DOWNTOWN — A decision to turn down county funding and charge out-of-town seniors is paying off at WISE & Healthy Aging.
In September, WISE served 28 more Santa Monica residents at its free and reduced-price lunch program than it did the same month last year, said Grace Cheng Braun, CEO of WISE.
On Sept. 1, WISE started charging non-Santa Monica seniors $4.50 for lunch. Santa Monica seniors do not have to pay. A $2.50 donation is suggested.
The overall number of diners are down but Cheng Braun said she expected that decline.
Previously, WISE took reservations and sometimes had to turn Santa Monica diners away. In September, WISE was able to do away with the reservation system and they no longer struggle with overcrowding.
“I think there’s more of an ease to it all,” Cheng Braun said of the lunches.
In September, 184 Santa Monica seniors ate at WISE compared to 156 the year before, a 16.7 percent increase, according to figures provided by the nonprofit.
“Certainly for people who’ve been coming here for years and accessing lunch at no cost there was a concern,” Cheng Braun said.
WISE provided those seniors with information about 10 other county facilities, she said.
The response from people who ate at WISE in September was “overwhelmingly positive,” she said.
WISE kept the same caterer, which Cheng Braun said was one reason they were so popular among countywide seniors in the first place.
Last fiscal year only 57 percent of WISE meals were served to Santa Monicans.
There are currently 204 registered WISE diners.
WISE is funded through grants from City Hall.