GIRARD — As more elderly people use federally funded meal home delivery service in Crawford County, making ends meet has become a serious challenge for those providing the essential “meals-on-wheels” service for homebound seniors.
Cindy Lane, director of the Southeast Kansas Area Agency on Aging (SEKAAA), spoke to the Crawford County Commission on Friday to discuss the nonprofit organization’s financial woes.
“It’s beginning to be a crisis for us if we keep providing meals,” Lane said. “We have never had a wait list for meals in the past.”
If it can’t find a source of additional revenue, the SEKAAA will have to freeze delivery service through its nutrition program, which is largely funded by federal money that is administered through the state but requires local matching funds.
“I can’t bankrupt my agency for the meals program,” Lane said.
Including the cost of paying drivers to deliver them, each meal costs the SEKAAA about $11.
“It is through Older Americans Act funds so we cannot require a fee for this service,” said Stacy Dickerhoof, program manager for SEKAAA. “If they cannot pay for a meal, we cannot eliminate them from the program because they cannot.”
In addition to Crawford County, SEKAAA also serves Allen, Bourbon, Cherokee, Labette, Montgomery, Neosho, Wilson and Woodson counties, and the county government isn’t the only source of money to help the organization meet its requirements for matching federal funds.
Commissioner Bruce Blair pointed out that for elderly people who have some amount of mobility, there are also other resources in larger municipalities in the county.
“There’s other opportunities in Pittsburg,” Blair said. “You’ve got Lord’s Diner. That’s getting utilized all the time. It’s available for anyone — college kids included.”
In more rural areas, though, there are often less options to serve the needs of local senior citizens, Blair said. Dickerhoof said this is something officials in Topeka often do not understand — asking, for example, if the SEKAAA can use a local hospital or restaurant as a meal distribution site, when the community they’re talking about may not have either one.
“They don’t understand the rural — really rural — settings that we deal with,” Dickerhoof said.
Asked by Commissioner Jeremy Johnson whether meal delivery requests were increasing as meal service at senior centers declines, Dickerhoof said it was.
The demand for meal delivery is “going to continue to grow,” Blair said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”