Meals on Wheels a lifeline for vulnerable, hungry seniors will serve far fewer people when its fiscal year starts next week.
The senior nutrition program wants to avoid repeating what happened in May, when it almost closed for the final two months of its fiscal year because it nearly ran out of money. Officials have said demand has spiked while state funding has remained flat.
But Meals on Wheels has continued to serve its 200 oldest seniors about a quarter of its clients after community donations poured in.
The Howard Training Center operates Meals on Wheels and a senior lunch program at 13 locations throughout Stanislaus County on behalf of the Area Agency on Aging. The training center also cut back the lunch program.
The training center will scale back the two programs to make its new round of funding last by:
Prioritizing Meals on Wheels seniors in three groups based on such factors as age, health and whether they live with someone who also is homebound and cannot drive. Priority one and two seniors 500 of the 850 clients would be served first, with the rest on a wait list.
Not all of Meals on Wheels' clients receive meals five times a week and the number of seniors in the program fluctuates. The wait list created by prioritizing seniors could have 150 to 300 seniors on it, Howard Training Center Executive Director Claudia Miller said.
Increasing the suggested donation from $2 per meal to $3. These donations make up a small part of the funding for both programs. In the 2010-11 fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2011, they accounted for $68,187 of the $962,032 budget.
Reducing the number of lunches served at the 13 senior and community centers and senior housing complexes across the county from five times a week to three. But Miller said the days would be staggered so a senior could eat lunch five days a week by eating at two sites.
Reducing Meals on Wheels deliveries from five days a week to two. Seniors would get five meals in two deliveries instead of five deliveries. Seniors who live in isolated parts of the county, such as La Grange, would get all five meals delivered once a week.
This will allow the Howard Training Center to save money, but it reduces the interaction between drivers and seniors. The drivers can be the only person these seniors see in a day.
These changes continue some of the cost-saving measures the Howard Training Center started in May.
The program does not have an income cutoff, but the training center promotes the Meals on Wheels program in the most economically challenged and diverse neighborhoods in the county.
Training center officials say 30 percent of the clients are very low income and 28 percent are low income. A very low income senior would have an income of no more than $1,088 a month.
The training center has operated Meals on Wheels and the senior lunch program since October 2006. Its one-year contract is set to expire Friday, but the Area Agency on Aging extended it Monday for one month, to July 31.
That was done because all of the details of the new contract have not been worked out, said Margie Palomino, director of Stanislaus County's Department of Aging and Veteran Services, which includes the Area Agency on Aging.
Palomino said she expects the contract to be brought before the county Board of Supervisors at its July 17 meeting for approval.
She said the Howard Training Center and Area Agency on Aging will closely monitor the contract to find ways to save money so they can reduce the wait list and serve more seniors.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2316.
WHO GETS SERVED
Seniors 80 and older who are homebound, live alone or live with a spouse who also is homebound*
Seniors 60 to 79 years old who are homebound, live alone or with a spouse who also is homebound. The senior must not be able to dress himself, bathe or complete one similar activity of daily living because of a cognitive or physical deficiency. The deficiency could include dementia, Alzheimer's disease or a physical disability.
Margie Palomino, director of Stanislaus County's Department of Aging and Veteran Services, said criteria are being developed for these seniors.
* Homebound means a senior is unable to leave his or her home under normal circumstances and does not drive.
Note: The spouse and-or dependent adult (who also is homebound) living with a Priority 1 and 2 senior will be given the same priority as the eligible senior.
LEARN WHERE TO GET HELP
Seniors who are on the Meals on Wheels waiting list may wish to contact these agencies for help with food:
120 Kerr Ave.
Riverbank Christian Food Sharing
3017 High St.
Oakdale Community Sharing
579 Center St.
United Samaritans Foundation
220 S. Broadway
Seniors can call the United Way of Stanislaus County's 211 referral line for information on other nonprofits and agencies that provide food.