PASCO — The walk-in fridge and freezer are packed full.
The cooks have to compete for limited counter space, at times using small carts as stand-ins.
And the 22-gallon tilt pan that on Friday was filled with simmering au gratin potatoes? Well, there's only one -- and sometimes that just doesn't cut it.
One day, for example, the cooks needed the pan for both an enchilada casserole and rice and beans -- and the limited equipment created a bit of a log jam.
"We were down to the last minute," said Donna McClure, who runs the Mid-Columbia Meals on Wheels central kitchen at the Pasco Senior Center.
The local food program produces thousands of meals a year, and most of them come from the senior center's kitchen. But the population of local residents 60 and older -- the main pool of clients -- is growing. And demand is growing too.
The program has outgrown the rented kitchen space, which was designed to produce about 250 meals a day -- 200 fewer than the 450 meals McClure and her crew crank out.
So the local nonprofit that runs Mid-Columbia Meals on Wheels is making plans to build a new commercial kitchen on 2.2 acres it owns off Fowler Street in Richland. Senior Life Resources Northwest is using an architecture firm and kitchen design company to create a conceptual design and detailed cost estimate, said John Rupp, the chief executive officer.
The group's board of directors will hear a report in March and then make a decision about the scope of the project, Rupp said. Senior Life Resources may also eventually build office space at the Fowler Street site.
During the past several years, the number of meals served by the local program has steadily increased, along with the population of 60-and-older residents in Benton and Franklin counties.
That population numbered about 35,000 in 2010 and is projected to reach at least 58,900 by 2030, Rupp said.
Mid-Columbia Meals on Wheels served 130,827 meals in 2010 and estimates that number will grow to more than 204,000 by 2030.
Volunteers help deliver meals to the homebound through the program. There also are several dining centers spread throughout the two counties.
Workers buzzed around the senior center kitchen Friday, preparing the day's fare. The crew starts arriving about 5 a.m., McClure said.
Senior Life Resources contracts with a national food service organization to manage the food ordering and preparation, and that company rents the kitchen from the city of Pasco.
Rupp said his group is grateful to the city for the space -- it just needs more room as it continues to grow.
She stood in the kitchen as workers scurried past. She pointed to the stuffed shelves, the full fridge, the sole tilt pan with simmering potatoes.
Having more room, she said, "would be a great advantage."