April 11, 2013

Friends lend a hand as Meals on Wheels waiting list grows

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Administrators for central Maine's Meals on Wheels program, which began compiling a waiting list in early March because of federal sequester cuts, say the list has grown dramatically in the past two weeks.

Waiting list as of April 9:

Muskie Center, Waterville: 18

Cohen Center, Hallowell: 15

Somerset Center, Skowhegan: 3

Total: 36 (March 29 total was 25)

A gymnasium in Hallowell that serves clients age 40 and over has responded by raising money to help keep the waiting list numbers down.

Bob Sweet, 61, who co-owns Age Right Fitness, said the specialty gymnasium began a fundraising campaign among its customers in an effort to take someone off the waiting list of the program, which delivers five meals a week to seniors in need.

The gymnasium's donation drive already has collected enough money to provide a year's worth of meals to a person on the waiting list of Spectrum Generation's Cohen Center, which serves the surrounding area.

One month of meals for one senior costs about $120, he said.

Sweet said he hopes the gymnasium, which has a customer base of just 80 people, will set an example for other businesses in the area that could also raise money for the Meals on Wheels program.

"The whole purpose of this fund drive is to get people off the waiting list," Sweet said. "For some of these folks, this is their only contact with the outside world."

Sweet said the gymnasium will continue to accept checks made out to Meals on Wheel Sponsorship through Friday at 124 Outlet Road.

In early March, Meals on Wheels began putting people on a waiting list for the first time in central Maine, according to Deb Silva, a vice president at Spectrum, which administers the program throughout the area.

By the end of March, the total number of people on the list at Spectrum's three distribution centers in Hallowell, Skowhegan and Waterville was 25.

Eleven more seniors have been added to the list in the past two weeks, bringing the total to 36. If the list continues to grow at the current pace, it will number in the hundreds by this fall.

The cuts also have caused the program to scale back on visits to senior homes. Rather than visit twice each week, volunteers visit only once a week, Silva said, during which they deliver all five meals for the week.

"Consumers and some of their family members have shared with staff and drivers that it is very sad for them to lose their second visit of the week," Silva said.

Meals on Wheels is one of several programs funded under the Older Americans Act, which was affected on March 1 by federal across-the-board sequestration cuts. Silva said Spectrum lost $106,000, or 5 percent, of its annual budget, but that the effect on the program's services is 9 percent, because the cut is retroactive to the beginning of the calendar year.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling -- 861-9287
mhhetling@centralmaine.com

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