Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Seven months after federal sequestration cuts forced the area's Meals on Wheels program to scale back its program to feed seniors who have trouble getting out, full service has been restored, program administrators said.
Seton Village resident Marie Rouleau, left, and Personal Support Specialist Zandra Luce work in the kitchen preparing a meal on March 25. Rouleau was among those on a waiting list for the Meals on Wheels program, which restored full service on Tuesday, according to program officials.
Staff file photo by David Leaming
HOW TO APPLY
To apply for help from the Meals on Wheels program, or to make a donation to support the program, contact Spectrum Generations at 800-639-1553 or www.spectrumgenerations.org.
In March, seniors who called for immediate help were instead put on a waiting list by Spectrum Generations, which delivers 300,000 meals each year to homebound seniors in 128 communities in six counties as part of a national Meals on Wheels program.
The $85,600 cuts also caused Spectrum to scale back its twice-weekly visits to seniors, taking them a week's worth of frozen meals during a single trip instead.
On Tuesday the organization was able to reset the list to zero and reinstate its twice-weekly deliveries, according to Debra Silva, vice president at Spectrum, which provides a variety of services.
Spectrum was able to restore full service only after an intensive round of fundraising and cost reductions, officials said.
Meals on Wheels serves 200 people a day from Waterville's Muskie Center and 800 people a day to homebound seniors in communities throughout Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Sagahadoc, Somerset and Waldo counties.
Silva said the cost of feeding 800 people a day is a tipping point relative to how many resources Spectrum has to run the program.
"We don't know if we can sustain it," Silva said.
Every time the phone rings and it's a donor wanting to support the cause, the cushion is extended. Every time the phone rings and it's a person needing help, it takes the organization a little closer to the edge.
In the meantime, continued effects of the sequestration and the threat of a protracted federal government shutdown combine to make the future of the program uncertain.
The shutdown won't affect Meals on Wheels in the short term because of the timing of its federal payments, she said. If the gridlock in Washington continues for another month, however, funding would become an issue, Silva said.
The sequestration will take an additional $39,000 from the program, which is funded under the federal Older Americans Act, in its current budget cycle, which began Oct. 1, making the total loss more than $122,000.
When the sequestration cuts hit the program in March, the tipping point was unbalanced, and the program began running at a deficit.
The waiting list, imposed in an effort to restore the balance, grew quickly, reaching 36 in the first six weeks at centers Spectrum operates in Hallowell, Skowhegan and Waterville.
By mid-September, the waiting list was 170.
One of the first people to be put on the waiting list was Marie Rouleau, an 84-year-old Waterville resident.
An active, independent woman who lives by herself, Rouleau broke her neck during a fall. She was left unable to lift a chicken, cut vegetables or bend to take things out of the oven.
In early March, reduced to a diet of pre-packaged sandwiches and soup and worried about her nutrition, she called Spectrum, only to learn that it could not help.
Rouleau said she received a call recently from Spectrum offering to take her off the list, but in the interim, a solution presented itself.
Rouleau said that a woman who read about Rouleau's plight in the Morning Sentinel visited one day and has been bringing Rouleau meals ever since.
"Now I've got a new friend," she said.
Rouleau's solution was the exception, not the rule. When Spectrum staff called the 170 people on the waiting list, only a handful no longer needed help, according to Chris Teague, the nutrition director for the program.
Federal cuts prompt response
Teague said the program was able to find ways to operate for less by rethinking delivery routes and seeking better ongoing relationships with local farmers and food banks.
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