Funding Shortfall Means Fewer Meals for Seniors

By Jill Kasparie, Reporter

Dianna Young, Meals on Wheels A volunteer packs meals in a case for Meals On Wheels at Horizons, 819 5th Street SE in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday morning, June 1, 2011. (Stephen Mally/Freelance)

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By Rachel Begle

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – The Heritage Area Agency on Aging is facing a funding shortfall, forcing organization leaders to make tough decisions about the future.

The Heritage Agency dishes out nearly $2 million a year to keep the nutrition program running. That's money that fuels Meals on Wheels programs and senior dining sites across Eastern Iowa. The non-profit agency is now finding itself forced to cut meals for low-income and homebound seniors in need.

Dorothy Benesch said the news of the cuts is tragic.

“There are so many people, other than myself, that really need these,” Benesch said.

The Cedar Rapids woman gets the meals every week day.

"I don't drive anymore, and I'm home all the time," Benesch said. "I found out that I wasn't cooking like I should."

Last year, The Heritage Agency provided 490,000 home-delivered and congregate meals to low-income seniors in a seven county area around Cedar Rapids. The Heritage Agency said the decision to cut back comes as federal funds and donations remain low and the need for meals in Eastern Iowa continues to rise.

The Heritage Agency on Aging’s Nutrition and Healthy Living Program Coordinator Tim Getty said the need is rising for a number of reasons. The economy, low retirement savings and the flood are a few explanations. Also, there are more seniors finding themselves in a "gap" where they don't qualify for food stamps.

"But they also don't have enough money to pay for their medicine, and their utilities, and their other bills and ultimately their food," Getty said. "Something has to give. A lot of times it turns out that they eat a lot less than they should."

Getty added that the meal programs are about much more than the meal.

"It's the companionship. It’s the getting to talk with someone, visit with them … I think that's the concern of the participants - if the meals have to be reduced,” Getty said.

"I have real nice people that deliver my meals and you look forward to seeing them," Benesch said. "Of course, they don't stay long, they just deliver a meal and talk a little and that's it."

The Heritage Agency has decided to cut 83,000 meals this year, unless it can get new funding. Volunteers are looking for new ways to bring in money. That’s where the “Fill the Plate” telethon comes into play. It’ll air is from 5:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m. on Sunday on KCRG 9.2. People can call in to donate to the non-profit organization to keep the meals coming to area seniors.

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