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Meals on Wheels Program faces funding shortage
The meal is either delivered to a participant’s home by volunteers or served in a community setting. In Northville, seniors can eat this meal at Allen Terrace, a city-owned apartment residence for seniors.
Those eligible must be age 60 and over for congregate or home-delivered meals. Seniors receiving home-delivered meals must be eligible in other ways: unable to prepare meals, unable to drive, and unable to leave their home on their own (which often means they can’t get out to buy groceries).
For Shirley Mazur, a longtime resident at Allen Terrace who is in her 80s, the program fills a vital need. “I can’t cook anymore,” she said. “I can’t use an arm well. I can’t stand on one of my legs for long. I had a stroke. But, I was lucky.”
She eats lunch with up to 15 others in the dining room. The meals meet 1/3 of the U.S. dietary reference intakes (DRI), which includes fruit, milk, a vegetable and a protein. One recent meal consisted of baked fish, green beans, cole slaw, roll, milk and apple cobbler.
Meals on Wheels is a state and federally-funded program managed regionally; in this area, it is run by Wayne County Senior Services, with contracted food and staff services from The Senior Alliance. The program is based on needs rather than income. It was born out of the Older American Act of 1963 and home delivery of hot meals began in the ‘70s.
For the home-bound part of the program, the senior who requested the meal has to answer the door. This gives the delivery volunteer a chance to make sure they are okay.
“The well-being check is almost more important than the meal,” said Joan Siavrakas, division director of Wayne County Senior Services. “Living alone and being isolated can contribute to overall poor health.
“Providing this service to home-bound seniors allows them to live longer in their own home, and more independently,” Siavrakas said. “That is the beauty of the program.”
Tight budgets have cut into the Meals on Wheels program. For years, there wasn’t enough state funds to cover the entire cost of the program in Wayne County, so Wayne County government subsidized it for more than a decade. This is the first budget year that it is cutting back its subsidy. For one year, it will be covered by The Senior Alliance, according to Jason Maciejewski, chief information and planning officer.
“We saw an increase in the senior population in this region, but the pot of money hasn’t grown,” Maciejewski said.
“There is a suggested donation of $3 per meal, which goes right back into the program,” according to Siavrakas. “The success of the program depends on volunteers and donations. There are 350 people on a waiting list in August, we’ve never had such a high number before.”
As a result of the budget shortfall, two Fridays a month have been cut from congregate meals and home-delivered meals. The homebound will receive a frozen meal on Thursday along with a second cold portion (milk, bread and dessert) during those weeks the program days are reduced.
Dan Meyer, of Northville, is a new volunteer driver in the program. He delivers meals to eight home-bound seniors once a week. His route – 6 Mile and Beck to 7 Mile, between Northville Road and Haggerty – takes up to one hour to complete. He picks up the meals from Allen Terrace. He and six to eight other volunteers deliver meals to 16 home-bound seniors.
“I’m retired and was looking for things to do that would be good for the community and good for people,” Meyer said. “It’s actually very nice. I enjoy doing it. I stay a bit longer if the people that I’m delivering meals to want to talk.”
Lenore (Lee) Curtis, of Livonia, manages the food program at Allen Terrace. She’s been involved with Meals on Wheels for 28 years. “This is one of the best run sites that I’ve worked at,” she said.
As a part-time employee of The Senior Alliance, she receives the food and distributes it to the drivers, then sets up the food right before lunchtime – keeping hot food hot with a warming table. She manages other volunteers, who check in the 16 seniors registered to receive a meal and then help serve the meal. Curtis often brings in goodies she has baked for the residents – treating them like family.
June Gill, an active resident of Allen Terrace for 17 years, has seen the program from both sides: as a volunteer delivering meals when she was younger and as a senior who relies on the meals to supplement her grocery budget and give her a break from cooking.
Her favorite meal is fish, which is often served on Fridays. “This is my main meal,” she said. “If it wasn’t available, then I would have to cook my own. I like the program. I think it’s really good. I hope we can keep it.”
Siavrakas needs more volunteers to help serve and deliver the meals to seniors and encourages donations to help fund the program so all the people on the waiting list can receive the meals they need. For more information, please contact Senior Services at 737-727-7373.