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Meals on Wheels

Service could have less food to go around

Meals on Wheels faces federal funding cuts, uncertain future


Denver resident Lometa Gaskin, 99, stands behind her screen door, waiting for Meals on Wheels volunteer Wayne Chitwood. He asks how she’s doing as he comes up the sidewalk.

“If I was doing any better you’d think it was a frame-up,” Gaskin replies.

The paint in her living room is peeling in patches, but the house is clean. Gaskin says she’d rather die than move into assisted living, and she relies on Meals on Wheels for a daily serving of nutrition — and conversation.

“I enjoy meeting the people more than I enjoy the food,” she says.

Asked about how funding cuts to the program, included in President Trump’s proposed 2018 budget, would affect her, she changes the subject.

“Let’s not go there,” she says.

The $4.1 trillion budget made headlines in March, proposing funding cuts to a number of social programs.

One such reduction is a 16.2 percent cut to the Department of Health and Human Services, which reduces revenues the Denver Regional Council of Governments could distribute to Volunteers of America and its Meals on Wheels program.

Congress has until the end of September to pass a federal budget, and as the deadline approaches, Dale Elliott grows anxious.

“We save lives every day,” says Elliott, division director of Aging and Nutrition Services for VOA.

Drivers give some clients their only social contact of the day, as well as a nutritious meal. Three or four times a year, Elliott says, they find seniors who’ve fallen and need medical help.

The budget cuts would take $307,300 from Meals on WheelsDenver branch eliminating services to 620 seniors in the metro area, according to Elliott. Funds for “congregate meals,” offered to mobile seniors in 30 centers in the seven counties Elliott’s office covers, would lose $192,900 and serve 705 fewer seniors. Funding reductions would also take more than $30,000 from programs the VOA offers to provide safety-based home repairs and in-home exercise programs for seniors.

But Republican businessman and former state legislator Victor Mitchell, a Castle Rock resident and candidate for governor who has been delivering meals on Fridays for about a year, believes other funding mechanisms exist for the organization to make ends meet.

One solution could be “to change their model to the extent that they raise more money from private-sector dollars,” Mitchell says. “I think it’s a fantastic program and it does a lot of great things. I just believe there could be a great deal more done with funding the program with the private sector.”

Meals on Wheels receives 87 percent of its funding from government sources, 9 percent from private donations and 4 percent from client contributions, Elliott says.

“It’s not like we don’t do that,” he says. “The reality is we just don’t receive sufficient response.”

Herb Wager, 68, began visiting the Castle Rock Senior Activity Center after his wife died in May, and enjoys the fellowship as much as the food. He’s an unaffiliated voter and leans Republican, but like Elliott, he disagrees that private corporations or citizens can fill the gaps federal cuts would create.

“It won’t get done,” the Castle Rock resident says. “It would be nice in an ideal situation, but it’s not an ideal world.”

On a sunny Tuesday in August, Wager talks over baked chicken with Buzz Bowers, also of Castle Rock. Bowers began bringing his wife to the center five years ago when her Parkinson’s disease confined her to a wheelchair. It was a way for his wife to socialize as her condition worsened, and the friends they made there were a comfort for Bowers when she died last year.

He says the fact that the government would consider cutting programs for seniors is evidence of “troubled times” in the United States, and he warns that decreasing funding won’t decrease the demand.

“I think it’s something that needs to be increased, not decreased,” Bowers, 84, said. “Seniors are living longer, and there’s going to be a lot more of us.”


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