By CHERIL VERNON
Earlier this month, Meals On Wheels Association of America released results of a survey detailing the impact of federally mandated budget cuts on local Meals on Wheels organizations across the country.
Meals On Wheels of Palestine Inc., which serves 900 meals a day five days a week in Anderson, Cherokee and Rusk counties, was one of the participating survey participants that has had to undergo several cost-cutting measures recently, including eliminating staff positions, moving employees from salary to hourly pay and placing new MOW participants on a waiting list.
“The simple reason is that we do not have the money,” MOW of Palestine Inc. Executive Director Lois Durant told the Herald-Press.
Nearly 70 percent of the Meals on Wheels programs across the country also reported in the survey that they have had to reduce the number of meals served to the nation’s hungry and homebound seniors.
On average, 364 meals per week have been cut and more than 70 percent are establishing or adding to existing waiting lists. Programs have increased their waiting lists on average by 58 seniors, and 40 percent of programs responding have eliminated staff positions or are closing congregate meals sites or home-delivered meal program.
“Every day, Meals on Wheels programs provide a lifeline by serving meals to our nation's most vulnerable, frail, and isolated seniors,” Meals On Wheels Association President and CEO Ellie Hollander said. “The real impact of sequester is that our programs don't have the ability to expand to meet the growing need.
“We should be investing in these programs to ensure our seniors have the nutritious meals they need to remain healthy and independent.”
The survey was conducted among Meals On Wheels Association members who currently receive federal funding through the Older Americans Act.
But that funding isn’t the only funding that has been cut to local programs.
“I went to the East Texas Council of Governments meeting recently and was given word that we will be cut a little more than $15,000 between now and Sept. 30,” Durant said. “The $15,000 cut is not set in stone yet, but it is most likely going to happen.
“We are discussing ways to try to save money the best we can without cutting services.”
In addition, Meal on Wheels also will be cutting 5 percent on next year’s budget, which starts in October, due to more mandated budget cuts.
“That amounts to a little over $13,000,” Durant said.
In addition, Durant said she has gotten word from a contractor Meals on Wheels gets state funding from that it’s possible the organization will be cut by the equivalent of 6,000 meals from its Title XX program, which comes to a cost of $29,700. However, through its Title XIX program, it may get an increase.
“It’s a waiting game and it can be really hard to figure out where to find the money for the programs,” Durant said.
Home Delivered Meals
Meals on Wheels of Palestine Inc. delivers 225,900 meals a year in Anderson, Cherokee and Rusk counties.
“We operate here in Palestine mostly with volunteer deliveries. In the other two counties, we have vehicles with paid drivers that deliver the meals in a company-owned vehicle. We also have paid people who deliver in their own vehicles and volunteers,” Durant said.
Currently, the MOW program has a waiting list, but clients are usually coming on and going off the list all of the time depending on their health. Generally, MOW of Palestine Inc. serves 1,157 people in the three counties.
“Last year we ran out of funding on our home-delivered program in July and we will probably do the same thing this year,” Durant said.
MOW of Palestine Inc. can apply for a grant from the Texas Department of Agriculture, HB 407, for the unfunded meals.
“Because more agencies across the state will be applying as well, we will get a smaller share because the money will have to go around for all of the agencies that apply,” Durant said. “It would be nice if the Legislature would appropriate more money for these programs.”
In order to receive the HB 407 grant, MOW of Palestine Inc. also has to get small grants from Anderson, Cherokee and Rusk counties.
“We try to get funding every where we can. We apply for grants from foundations wherever we can find them, especially those that are beneficial to elderly programs,” Durant said.
MOW of Palestine Inc. just received a $1,000 donation from Walmart Distribution Center 6036 in Tucker and another $1,000 donation from Altrusa International of Anderson County.
“We’re grateful for all the moneys that we have received,” Durant said.
In addition to home deliveries, MOW of Palestine Inc. also offers on-site meals in Palestine, Frankston, Henderson and Jacksonville five days a week.
“Our numbers have been down. We used to do 50 a day, but now we are averaging 30 to 35,” Durant said. “The food is very good and nutritious.”
The on-site meals are available to anyone over age 60 and their spouses (only one spouse has to be 60 or above).
“We ask for a donation of $3, but if they don’t have it, we don’t turn them away,” Durant said.
At one point the Meals on Wheels board of directors discussed operating its on-site program four days a week instead of five, similar to programs in Tyler, but hasn’t done so yet.
“We know there are some that have no other means of getting food and we don’t want to cut that,” Durant said. “We’re trying our best not to do any drastic cuts, but it might become necessary.”
Why MOW is Important
Delivering home-delivered meals to senior citizens in need of some assistance can be a lifesaver to many — helping them remain independent as long as possible.
“It helps them stay out of institutional care for a little bit longer. Institutional care is very expensive per person. We can feed a person in their home and keep them in their home and help them stay independent a little longer,” Durant said.
And in many cases, the MOW delivery driver is the only contact a senior citizen has all day.
“A lot of people in our three counties live in very rural areas. The driver might be the only person they see for days,” Durant said. “A lot of them — because they live so far out — will get one hot meal and four frozen meals a week. But our contract states that we must check on them two to three times a week by phone, so we can make sure they are okay.”
In Meals on Wheels of Palestine Inc.’s favor over other MOW programs facing cuts across the nation, Palestine has its own facility at 200 N. Church St. in Palestine that it can rent out to the public for events and reunions, for example.
“Our program rents our building out to help get funding for our program. During the summer months it’s rented almost every Saturday and we have some bookings into next year,” Durant said. “We also try to raise money by sponsoring trips. All profits from the trips goes towards our home delivered meals program. Even so, we are more fortunate than many other programs because they don't have a building to rent and they can't do fundraisers such as ours.”
Currently, MOW of Palestine Inc.’s Dogwood Travelers group is offering a seven-day, six-night trip to Myrtle Beach and Charleston, S.C. in September.
“So far we have 20 people confirmed to take the trip, so I think the trip is going to make, if people keep coming up,” Durant said.
MOW of Palestine Inc. also has a fund-raiser it is about to close offering advertising on its new refrigerated delivery truck purchased in January.
“We have been selling ads on it for supporters. We are just about to wind that down. If anyone wants to buy any ads on the truck to help pay for it, we would be happy to talk to them,” Durant said. “We are ready to close it down and get the shrink wrap on the truck.”
So far, most of the purchased advertising for the truck has come from Rusk County.
“Our truck travels more than 250 miles a day five days a week. The ads will be on our truck from here to Henderson and back. It would be there for the life of the truck as long as we have it, so it’s a pretty good advertising deal,” Durant said.
Ad spaces start at $500. Space is still available on the front, back and on the doors.
For more information about Meals on Wheels of Palestine Inc., call 903-729-0255 or visit http://www.mowacr.com or at the Palestine Senior Activity Center, 200 N. Church St.