Meals on Wheels program ends

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, January 4, 2012

BURLINGTON — Just two months after the senior citizens’ levy lost by a half-percent margin the fallout from the loss of revenue has hit home.

On Dec. 30, the county’s Meals on Wheels program was shut down, no longer sending out hot meals to seniors unable to cook for themselves.

Now the possibility that the main senior citizen’s center at Sybene and its satellite in Ironton could close is looming.

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“With the non-passage of the senior levy and some of the cuts in various funding sources, we are having to transition some of the senior programs,” said Ralph Kline of the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization. “We are trying to cut those that are the biggest losers and that is the home-delivery program. That is one of the largest costs for operating. Basically it is cuts in funding sources and nothing to pay for it.”

On average the kitchen at the Sybene center produced 40,000 meals a year, serving just under 300 clients countywide. Kline cited the price of gasoline and labor costs going up with funding reductions as the main reason for stopping the program.

Cost to run the county program was between $300,000 to $400,000 a year for salaries, gasoline and food.

Now those clients must find other programs that can provide the home-delivery service.

“There are some other providers out there that do operate programs, whether they can get the funding sources,” Kline said. “I think there will definitely be some who won’t and they will be enlarging waiting lists.”

For the past six months of this year the Meals on Wheels program was subsidized through other sources, including a one-time input of stimulus dollars.

Five employees with the program lost their jobs because of the funding cuts and voter rejection of the levy — two assistant cooks and three home meal delivery drivers. The chief cook recently resigned from the Sybene center to take another job. Until he is replaced, there will be a suspension in the congregate lunchtime meals at the two senior centers.

“It will be a week or so of disruption of the congregate meals,” Kline said. “We are trying to see if we can coordinate and come up with other creative ways to maintain the two senior centers. We have to come with funding sources for keeping the lights on in the senior centers, pay coordinators at the center, insurance, salaries.”

The one-mill levy would have brought in $800,000 a year for five years for the county to keep current senior programs at full capacity and to add more clients. Lawrence is only one of eight counties in the state that does not have a senior citizen levy, Kline said.

“(The program reduction) is very difficult, especially when you face a senior who has a need,” he said. “When you are in the center and you talk to these individuals and you are no longer able to provide a service, it has been very difficult for our staff. … We are looking at other ways of trying to maintain the best basis of senior services with the resources you have available. With challenges new opportunities come up.”