Meals program trims a day

The cutback could mean a weekend without a meal for some, the agency director said.

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WALLA WALLA -- It won't be Fish Fridays.

There won't be creamed chicken, teriyaki meatballs or mac-and-cheese, either. No muffins, fruited Jell-O or canned pineapple.

Not on the last Friday of every month, beginning next week and until further notice.

It's a survival measure, said Howard Ostby, director of Senior Round Table.

The nonprofit feeds senior citizens through home-delivered meals and in congregate dining weekdays in four counties. In 2011, Senior Round Table fed people more than 58,000 meals in Walla Walla County.

And it is done with "some of the best cooks in the area" and volunteers, Ostby said in a letter to clients, alerting them of the need for financial support.

The program is funded largely through federal and state funding, and has suffered the same cuts as other agencies, Ostby said. The gaps are filled with private gifts, grants and donations offered for individual meals.

But donations are not buttering the bread now and cutting one day a month is the only way the meal program can stay solvent, the director explained. "We will be limiting services in all of Southeastern Washington this year."

In a single day in Walla Walla County, the cost for meals totals $1,449.

Cutting out just one day a month will allow Senior Round Table to continue its work for now. For some of the elderly, it will mean no meal for the day and maybe the weekend, Ostby speculated.

Most will be resourceful, he believes, saving portions of the generously-sized dinners, eating with family or friends or using the frozen meal that will be delivered ahead of time to those on routes. But there will be none of the face-to-face contact with drivers or servers that may be as important as the food, he added.

"We aim to keep seniors happy, safe, healthy, involved in society and in their own home for as long as possible," Ostby noted in his letter to clients, saying that doing so delays costly institutional care paid for with public money.

People are beginning to respond to the solicitation letters, some expressing disappointment and some sending in donations. That said, donated food is usually not the answer for such a large meal operation, the director pointed out. "We really need money."

For more information about Senior Round Table, call 527-3775 or email ostby@bmi.net.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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