A Frederick County program that delivers hot and cold meals to homebound and disabled adults is suspending delivery during Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays to help eliminate a projected $22,000 financial shortfall this year.
And to continue providing the service, Meals on Wheels also will step up efforts to recoup money from recipients. Each meal recipient will be given a self-addressed envelope on a monthly basis as a reminder to contribute the $50 per week it costs to provide the food.
The announcement comes four months after the Frederick County Department of Aging announced plans to expand the Meals on Wheels program into Jefferson, Middletown and Myersville. Those plans now appear stalled unless organizations in those areas are able to raise the funds to provide delivery.
Beginning this year, officials said Meals on Wheels will — for the first time since 2000 — suspend delivery on the 11 holidays recognized by county government.
Delivery routes will not be expanded, and efforts to collect donations will be beefed up to raise money and eliminate the $22,000 shortfall.
But officials with the program warn that these steps may not be enough.
“We may have to take additional steps,” said Carolyn True, director of the county Department of Aging. “I would like to address this during the fiscal year 2014 budget. We’re going to be asking [Frederick Board of County Commissioners] for additional funding.”
Commissioners President Blaine R. Young (R) said in an interview Monday that he is confident that through donations, the deficit will be eliminated.
“I asked the Department of Aging to look at the people who have donated in the past and put out the word that donations are needed again,” Young said. “We need to make sure we take care of those that absolutely need it. We need to ask those that have helped before to help again.”
Young said in his role as president of the board, he is going to solicit local businesses in the county for donations. Young said he checked with County Attorney John Mathis to see if it was ethically possible for him to ask for donations.
“I can fundraise for the county, since it is a county-run program,” he said. “I know it’s not a traditional means for the county to go out and ask for donations, but this is a great program.”
Commissioner Billy Shreve (R) said no one in the county will go hungry.
“Anyone can call up and get a meal,” Shreve said. “Since it is a federal requirement, there is no means test. People who truly need it will never go without a meal.”
However, officials with the Meals on Wheels program said there currently are 42 people on a waiting list for meals, mostly living in the eastern and western parts of the county where meals are not delivered.
Some 150 volunteers with Meals on Wheels deliver meals each month to 125 homebound adults living in Brunswick, Emmitsburg, Frederick, Thurmont, Walkersville, Woodsboro and Urbana.
Plans to expand the program into the Middletown, Myersville and Jeffersons areas will be abandoned, unless residents, churches or organizations in those towns agree to pay for it, said Kitty Devilbiss, the program’s coordinator.
At a meeting in August, about 35 people from Middletown expressed interest in receiving the delivered food. Since then, a committee has been formed to look at getting volunteers to deliver the food, yet nothing has been announced.
“We can’t take on anymore routes,” Devilbiss said.
Devilbiss told the county commissioners at a Nov. 1 meeting, that the department also is now accepting credit cards from recipients to pay for the delivered meals.
To help save money, meals no longer will be delivered on county government-observed holidays, including Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“A lot of times, families are off [work] for the holidays, and that is the time they use to spend with family, so we get tons of cancellations,” Devilbiss said. “It helps our [food] vendors, too, because they are often with limited staff.”
Devilbiss said meal recipients were notified of the change, and only three people said it was a problem.
“We’re working closely with them to make sure they have meals,” she said.
The commissioners were pleased to learn that meals will be provided to the three people.
“We were concerned,” Commissioner C. Paul Smith (R) said. “We didn’t want to leave them high and dry.”
The total cost of the county’s Meals on Wheels program in fiscal year 2013, which ends June 30, is $198,256 — $120,000 of which goes to food. The group’s funding comes in part from federal and state grants for $49,803, and county government, which provides $118,453. In fiscal year 2013, Meals on Wheels is projecting about $30,000 in donations.
The total cost of the program in fiscal year 2012 was $182,962 — $15,894 less than this year, according to the county’s budget office.
The average cost of the meals is $50 per week. Meals are prepared and provided by the county-run nursing home, Citizens Care & Rehabilitation Center in Frederick, the privately-owned Homewood at Crumland Farms assisted-living facility in Frederick and the county’s Work Release Center.
True said it is costing more to run the program because more senior citizens have opted to remain in their homes instead of moving to nursing homes or assisted-living facilities. Seniors are staying on the program longer, she said.
The number of people getting meals has remained at 125 for several years, Devilbiss said. But the $50-per-week contribution has not, because more seniors are struggling to pay, she said.
The program runs Monday through Friday, when a hot meal is delivered at midday, accompanied by a cold meal that can be refrigerated and eaten later.
Participants must be homebound due to illness or physical limitations, have no caregiver to assist with shopping and be unable to safely prepare food. Meal participants are asked to give a $50-per-week contribution if financially able.
“I think people forget about Meals on Wheels,” said Commissioner David P. Gray (R). “But it’s one of the components that keeps people in their homes.”
Meals on Wheels accepts monetary donations. To donate, send a check to Citizens Services Division, Frederick County Department of Aging, 1440 Taney Ave., Frederick, MD 21702. Checks should be made out to the county Department of Aging. Include the name Meals on Wheels in the memorandum line. All donations are tax deductible.