Funding for Meals on Wheels nutrition program loses speed

Elena Cherkasova who works for Meals on Wheels at the Walla Walla Senior Citzen Center put plastic wrap over a meal to be delivered by senior volunteer.

Elena Cherkasova who works for Meals on Wheels at the Walla Walla Senior Citzen Center put plastic wrap over a meal to be delivered by senior volunteer. Photo by Joe Tierney.



Helen Smith receives a welcome visit from a Meals on Wheels volunteer.

How to help

To donate to Senior Round Table programs, checks can be mailed to: Walla Walla Senior Center, 720 Sprague St., Walla Walla, WA 99362. The agency can also accept donations by credit or debit cards at 527-3775, or a billpay can be set up at your bank to have payment sent to the Senior Round Table program at the Walla Walla Senior Center.


Helen Smith's weekend meals from Meals on Wheels wait on her cutting block to be put away.

Fazzari spaghetti to be star of fundraiser

WALLA WALLA — The man who’s name is synonymous with Italian food for many longtime residents will be in the sauce once again.

On Friday Bob Fazzari — who owned Walla Walla’s Pastime Cafe until he sold the building in 2006 ­— will recreate the restaurant’s signature spaghetti and meatballs for the Center at the Park’s fundraising dinner.

The meal, which raises money for the senior citizen center’s Round Table nutrition programs, which includes Meals on Wheels, will be held Friday from 4:30-6 p.m, and 6-7 p.m at the center, 720 Sprague St. Tickets are $12.

Fazzari brings the recipes straight from the hands of Rose Basta, the woman who worked for his family in the Pastime kitchen for 50 years. “She was a godsend,” he said. “She was 85 before when she finally retired. She made that sauce and it took us forever ... we watched hundreds of times before we could finally get it right.

The secret ingredient? Some believe it to be the celery Basta’s recipe calls for, but it’s only a small part of it, Fazzari said.

“It’s simplicity. It’s just good products and not a whole bunch of them.”

WALLA WALLA — Cuts in federal and state spending on nutrition and other programs mean looming changes in how some senior citizens in Walla Walla and Columbia counties eat, socialize and get some medical needs met, officials say.

People like Helen Smith.

The U.S. Army veteran has been using the local Meals on Wheels service for a year and proclaims the home-delivered frozen dinners “delicious.” But the program is one of several area social service lifelines that are becoming financially frayed and depending more on fundraisers.

A year and a half ago, the 71-year-old was down to 104 pounds. Her health problems include arthritis and depression, a mix that’s brought a lack of motivation to eat or cook regularly, dress herself or manage her own medication. Coupled with no personal transportation, Smith was wasting away before she accessed Meals on Wheels.

When regular and balanced dinners started arriving, her health began to improve. She now weighs in at 133 pounds and her doctor would like to see the scale go to 140, she said.

Because of her mental health, Smith only leaves her tiny First Avenue home for medical appointment and Walmart trips, which she dreads. That brings isolation, but friendly weekday interactions with the volunteer who brings her meals give her a reason to get out of bed, she said.

Smith and her senior peers is the reason nutrition programs are so valuable to recipients and taxpayers, said Lori Brown, director of Southeastern Washington Aging and Long Term Care. Her Yakima office oversees eight counties, including Walla Walla and Columbia.

Programs that serve food to older or disabled people in their homes are partially funded with state and federal dollars under the Older Americans Act, enacted in 1965. That legislation created federal, state and local agencies to meet the diverse needs of a burgeoning population of senior citizens, Brown explained.

Federal funding for such services, however, has been “flat for years,” she said. State dollars, under the Senior Citizens Services Act, augmented those service programs, with 62 percent of those funds going into nutrition programs.

Since 2009, however, federal funding of the Older Americans Act has dropped by $2 million from a $9 million budget for all Washington state Aging and Long Term Care programs.

“And it has never been restored,” Brown said.

Meanwhile, the group needing help with food and more keeps growing along with grocery and fuel costs. Then add in a prolonged recession.

“That also really hit people who were able to help an elderly loved one on a fixed income by buying them food,” Brown said.

With what was already a perfect storm of supply vs. demand, this year the thunderclap of federal budget sequestration arrived, meaning less operating funds, she said. And as Congress attempts to cut national spending, Washington state will lose another $162,284by October. Federal funding provided $2,206,351 in 2011 and will fall more than 14 percent to $1,890,890 this year.

She might be able to backfill for a while with state reserve funds but, she said, “sequestration lasts for 10 years. There will be a gradual eroding of those programs year after year.”

Sequestration was intended to be painful for both fueding Republicans and Democrats in an attempt to encourage a budget resolution both parties would find more palatable.

This hasn’t happened, meaning programs meant to care for this country’s most vulnerable citizens are feeling the pain, Brown added.

In the Walla Walla Valley, social service spending cuts also will ding programs that help senior citizens with legal services, consumer protection, adult day care, long term care in the home and more.

As well, the prevention and referral senior dental and foot care clinics will likely disappear eventually. Those clinics are important as a referral service and at catching some serious health issues that would become more expensive to treat later on.

“We’ve caught (oral) cancer and made referrals,” Brown said. In foot care, a nurse makes a head-to-toe health assessment, checking for complications of diabetes and clipping toenails for people no longer limber enough to reach their feet.

Her agency also offers a sliding-fee for housebound people just over the line for Medicaid eligibility. Those 15-17 hours a week for bathing help, setting out medications or transportation to medical appointments can keep clients at home rather than in more costly assisted living or nursing facilities.

Money also provides respite and training for unpaid family caregivers — a vital component in delaying the need for residential nursing care, said Brown. Those services will be reduced to crisis-care only, Brown said. “We will have taken away the prevention.”

Washington state is second in the nation for long-term care supports, she said, adding that putting money into home- and community-based services is far easier on tax dollars than covering Medicare or Medicaid costs of nursing facilities.

“We’ve rebalanced services, reallocated dollars to not only what serves the clients’ choice, but also saves significant money,” Brown said.

Mary Cleveland, program coordinator for Aging and Long Term Care in Walla Walla, provided the following data from 2010 on local daily care cost comparisons between home and facility care:

  • Skilled nursing facility — $160 for Medicaid clients, $258 in private pay.
  • Assisted living — $60 to $146.
  • Adult family home — $48 to $149.
  • In-home — $48 for Medicaid clients.

The state is going to see a snowball effect as a result of not funding senior nutrition and other services, Brown predicted.

“A longer view will show more people in crisis situations needing acute care in hospitals and nursing homes,” she said. “We’ll be paying more money for a less robust system. And that’s not what we’ve worked hard for the last two decades for. And done a good job.”

Meals program depends on local largesse to fill funding gap

Home-delivered meals programs in the United States are dishing up a million meals a day, facilitated by 2.5 million volunteers and subsidized with less than 30 percent federal funding.

“Meals on Wheels programs are perhaps one of the very best examples of successful public-private partnerships because of their ability to leverage multiple funding sources to provide a solid return on investment,” the program’s chairman, Vinsen Faris, told the House Ways and Means Committee in February. A significant number of programs receive no government funding, he added, and must raise about 70 percent of their budgets from non-federal sources.

In Walla Walla County, Meals on Wheels in 2012 received 64 percent of its funding from state and federal dollars — covering $284,183 of the program’s total cost of $417,869. In Columbia County, government funding covered 57 percent, for $30,174 of total cost of $55,860 that year.

The funding gaps are filled in with grants, private donations and fundraisers, said Nancy Borgres, comptroller for the Walla Walla Senior Citizen Center.

The center’s Round Table nutrition program, which operates Meals on Wheels in Walla Walla and Columbia counties, prepares about 1,100 dinners a week for group dining and individual meals, said program coordinator Crystal King. For some clients, it is the only food they will get.

“Some have no income, no ability to cook,” Kind said. “I have my drivers put the dinners in the freezer to make sure they’re not stockpiling — and they’re not.”

For clients younger than 60, the meals cost $7 each. For people 60 and older, there is a suggested donation of $4 but no one is denied for an inability to pay, Borgres said.

Those getting the meals have to qualify for the help, including providing their medical records, “to make sure they are not just on the program because they don’t feel like going out and buying tuna fish,” King said.


HowardOstby 2 years, 6 months ago

To donate to Senior Round Table programs, checks can be mailed to: Walla Walla Senior Center, 720 Sprague St., Walla Walla, WA 99362. We can also accept donations by credit or debit cards at 527-3775, or a billpay can be set up at your bank to have payment sent to the Senior Round Table program. The program serves clients in Walla Walla, Columbia, Garfield, & Asotin Counties. Write checks to Senior Round Table. Volunteer drivers needed and mileage is paid. Come visit too!


pleasant 2 years, 6 months ago

When is the speghetti feed? I see the time but not the date.


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