Delaware Meals on Wheels program could be in jeopardy

Dover Mayor Robin R. Christiansen shakes Meals on Wheels recipient Charles Norton’s hand as Dover City Councilman Bill Hare looks on after they delivered lunch to his house. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

DOVER — Heartwarming personal stories easily outweigh the coldness of proposed budget crunches when it comes to the Meals on Wheels program, said Dover City Councilman William “Bill” Hare.

Mr. Hare joined Gov. John Carney, his fellow councilmen Scott Cole and Fred Neil, Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen and several other local political figures as they participated in the “Day to Deliver a Difference” at Dover’s Modern Maturity Center on Monday.

Mayor Christiansen and Councilmen Hare and Cole got an up-close-and-personal look at the Meals on Wheels program on Monday.

They traveled with Meals for Wheels volunteer driver Mike Dellaquila and delivered warm lunches to a couple of elderly men, one of whom was 95-year-old Charles Norton in south Dover on Monday.

Councilman Hare shook Mr. Norton’s hand, gave him his phone number and told him to call him if he ever needed anything. He added that he would check in on him periodically if he’d like.

“(Mr. Norton) pointed out a picture of he and his wife who had just died a couple of years ago and they had been married 70 years,” Mr. Hare said. “What would happen to this man if Meals on Wheels disappears? He’s lost. He looks forward to this every day.

“They’re trying to cut this out of the budget? I can’t even believe it. With all of the things that could be done in this country … and they want to cut Meals on Wheels.”

Could be part of proposed budget cuts

Actually, the Trump Administration said that it isn’t formally targeting the Meals on Wheels program with its proposed budget cuts.

However, the nonprofit organization could easily turn out to be an innocent bystander.

Dover City Councilman Scott Cole shakes Meals on Wheels recipient James Larimore’s hand after he delivered lunch to his house.
(Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

The Trump Administration said it is looking to eliminate Community Development Block Grants, a $3 billion program that’s designed to give states and cities different options in the fight against poverty.

However, several of the more than 5,000 Meals on Wheels programs across the county rely on the funding from those grants and could be impacted – and even eliminated – depending on location should those grants disappear from the budget.

That’s because each Meals on Wheels affiliate gets the majority of its operating money from varying degrees of local, state and federal government funds, as well as donations.

Meals on Wheels Delaware operates five organizations within the state.

It’s uncertain as to how the possible elimination of the grants would affect Meals on Wheels Delaware, whose website says, “The mission of Meals On Wheels Delaware is to raise private funds for allocation to member agencies with meal delivery programs. By providing both financial and human resources, we will ensure uninterrupted delivery of meals to senior Delawareans in the comfort of their homes.”

Councilman Neil said it still boggles his mind that cuts that could affect the Wheels of Meals programs are even being considered.

“I don’t understand it,” he said. “The president’s own party might push back on it, but the fact that Meals on Wheels is kind of hidden in the block-grant budget then that presents a problem, because it’s not Meals on Wheels, it’s your choice what you are going to cut out.

“I’m opposed to that because there are people there who absolutely need the help those block grants provide and Meals on Wheels could be the victim of that.”

Number of recipients is growing … fast

That could be devastating, said Trudie Clay, the coordinator of Meals on Wheels at the Modern Maturity Center.

Ms. Clay said Meals on Wheels volunteers deliver meals to between 650 to 700 residents of Dover each day and currently make around 1,100 meals a day and deliver them to areas all across Kent County.

The Modern Maturity Center served 200,084 meals in 2013 and that number has increased each year since. It

From left, Dover City Councilmen Bill Hare, Fred Neil and Sen. Brian Bushweller (D-Dover) all helped to deliver Meals on Wheels for the Modern Maturity Center Monday. (Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

served 310,618 meals last year, an increase of 110,534 deliveries (55 percent) in just three years.

Ms. Clay said she wanted the state’s decision makers to deliver meals on Monday so they could see first-hand how important Meals on Wheels can be to homebound seniors and people with disabilities.

“What I did was try to put (the politicians) with their districts so that they could actually go out and meet some of their constituents and see the need for the Meals on Wheels program,” she said.

Monday’s menu featured Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes and peas. Besides the hot meal, recipients also got a dessert, milk and bread, which are included in their daily packages.

Gov. Carney and Sen. Bushweller delivered a meal to a 101-year-old woman in the Lincoln Park area of Dover.

“This morning it was a good way to get out and meet a couple of seniors and to better understand up close how important this program is, because it enables senior citizens to stay in their homes and it’s a lot cheaper to send a meal out than it is to have someone in an assisted-care facility,” Gov. Carney said.

More than just a meal

One thing that Councilman Neil brought up was that Meals on Wheels has a two-pronged effect – not only do elderly and disabled people get meals, they also have people who can look in on their well-being.

“My baby sister who is 77 gets Meals on Wheels in Maryland, so I was very familiar with it,” he said. “I think it was great just being able to see exactly where the people are (delivering meals in Dover), how they react when the meals are delivered to them, their interaction with the drivers.

Dover City Councilman Bill Hare speaks to Gov. John Carney about the Meals on Wheels program at Dover’s Modern Maturity Center Monday.
(Delaware State News/Mike Finney)

“It’s marvelous. You need the eyes up top there. When you have people who are alone, elderly or have disabilities then you go in and you check, you become the eyes for those people. There is a tremendous amount of information that they can bring back if there is a problem that they see.”

Councilman Hare agreed and said there are things like those unseen efforts that people cannot put a price on.

“It’s a very heartwarming experience,” he said. “Some of these people you can’t imagine what their life would be like if these (volunteers) didn’t come and visit them every day.

“It’s heartwarming for us, so you know it’s heartwarming for them.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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