“Our cooks get here at four in the morning to start cooking,” Graham said, a tab that calls for more than 800 meals daily. “We order our food from a company here in East Texas — Ben E. Keith.”
Under the Older Americans Act (OAA), those benefitting from Meals on Wheels are broken into two main groups. The OAA authorizes and provides appropriations to the Administration on Aging (AoA) for three different nutrition programs under Title III:
• Congregate Nutrition Services (Title III C1)
• Home-Delivered Nutrition Services (Title III C2)
• Nutrition Services Incentive Program (NSIP)
Graham said under “C1,” anyone is welcome to come to the Senior Activity Center and eat there in the building. Folks under age 60 are requested to pay $5, or $3 if over 60.
The “C2” category covers the folks on the deBessonets' route, those who are over 60, homebound and not able to cook for themselves. Routes also cater to Medicaid recipients, who are of various ages and selected through the state.
Graham said volunteers start showing up around 10:20 a.m. to collect and distribute the meals. While the program employs paid drivers in areas such as Henderson and Jacksonville, Graham said Palestine is pretty much totally dependent on the willing hearts and wheels of volunteers to transport the meals, with the only exception being residents who live outside the city.
“We do have some paid drivers that run routes out in the further areas of Elkhart and Tennessee Colony and those areas,” Graham said, noting that these residents are delivered to once a week — one hot meal and four frozen meals.
Meals on Wheels accrues limited federal, state and private funding, but budgets are wearing thin, Graham said, as the program struggles to meet increasing demand for services. Graham said that hours may end up being cut for some paid drivers, which handle most of the routes for Rusk County and Cherokee County.