Seniors urged to oppose cuts to Meals on Wheels

Modern Maturity Center members get their lunch during a rally for Meals on Wheels funding Thursday morning in Dover. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Speaking before dozens of hungry senior citizens just prior to lunch late Thursday morning, Carolyn Fredericks issued a call to action.

“You all have a telephone, you all have a voice, you all have a vote,” Ms. Fredericks said. “This is an election year, call your legislators …

“There’s a lot of people here who can make phone calls. Be nice when you call them, but make your voice heard.”

The Modern Maturity Center president and CEO was stumping for members to rally against a potential $840,000 state budget shortfall for the Meals on Wheels program in Fiscal Year 2019.

Supporters distributed a page of contact information for state senators and representatives with a large type, boldfaced message at the top reading:

“This is important!!!!!! Call your legislators today (underlined) and let them know you want them to fully fund nutritional programs for older adults, including Meals on Wheels, and to restore the cuts to Grant-in-Aid.”

MMC member George Dale Jr. heard the call loud and clear and sought out state Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Dover South, at the event held just prior to lunch being served at the facility on Route 8. Mr. Dale remembered delivering meals with his dad to the homebound elderly population as a child, an experience that could sway elected officials in their decision-making process.

“Before these legislators cut money from this program they need to ride with the men and women who go out and deliver these services and see who they are benefiting,” Mr. Dale said. “They would think ‘Wow, this is important’ and prioritize it as something that must be kept in place.”

After delivering meals himself and now serving on the Meals on Wheels Board of Directors, Rep. Yearick was convinced long before arriving at Thursday’s event. Now he’ll advocate for funding with his legislative colleagues.

State Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Dover South, sits in on a rally for Meals on Wheels funding at the Modern Maturity Center in Dover Thursday morning.

“They stretch a dollar … in the most prudent way I’ve seen and provide services as efficiently as possible,” Rep. Yearick said of the Meals on Wheels program.

“The return on the investment to the state of Delaware is as good as it can be when it comes to assisting the most vulnerable section of our state’s population, the senior citizens.”

According to backers, state funding for the elderly has declined 31 percent per senior (65 years and older) since 2012. The upcoming shortfall could eliminate 100,000 meals for 400 seniors “left without access to a nutritionally balanced meal which keeps them healthy and able to be in their own homes.”

Homebound senior citizens often receive their only outside contact from daily meal deliveries, making socialization as valuable as the meal for emotional well-being, CHEER Executive Director Kenneth Bock said. Those who deliver the meals, including youth, senior citizens and special needs volunteers, also benefit from the active responsibility of serving those in need.

“Our organization is all about senior citizens staying independent in their homes and this program is vital to that,” Mr. Bock said.

Modern Maturity Center President/CEO Carolyn Fredericks addresses members at a rally for Meals on Wheels funding Thursday morning in Dover.

There’s a dollars and cents value, too. The Delaware Aging Network is circulating data that shows it can cost three times as much for nursing home care ($127,752 annually) versus aging in place with in-home services ($33,125). Roughly 20 percent of all Delawareans are 65 years or older and the average age of those receiving services is 75 or older, the network said.

If funding is not approved, according to Meals on Wheels supporters, 137 of 1,499 seniors will lose service in New Castle County, 144 of 1,570 in Kent County, and 119 of 1,291 in Sussex County.

The state’s Division of Aging and Adults with Physical Disabilities communicated the potential shortfall to state nutrition centers, several which were represented at the Modern Maturity Center Thursday. Deborah Wirt of City Fare in New Castle and Kathy Keuski of Meals on Wheels in the Lewes-Rehoboth area attended the Dover gathering which organizers described as “part of a statewide effort by nutrition agencies to draw awareness to funding shortfall for Meals on Wheels.”

The efforts have been noticed, Ms. Wirt said, but need to continue.

“I feel they are aware and know that it’s a much needed service, so we’re educating them and making them aware that we need this service,” Ms. Wirt said.

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