Meals program depends on local largesse to fill funding gap

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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.

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