In the community

Malheur Council on Aging and Community Services seeks county help to keep Meals on Wheels program afloat

Tom Longoria (left), Malheur Council on Aging and Community Services senior programs manager, talks about the Meals on Wheels program while Sandy Shelton, director of the agency, looks on. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

ONTARIO – The agency that provides the Meals on Wheels program for local seniors asked the Malheur County Court last week for funding help as demand for the service is rapidly outstripping available resources.

The Malheur Council on Aging and Community Services on Feb 23 asked commissioners for a one-time funding boost of $15,000.

“We’ve reached a position where the demand for our program has just been growing very rapidly,” said Tom Longoria, senior programs manager for the council.

Longoria wrote in a letter to the court that before the pandemic the agency served about 60 people with its Meals on Wheels program.

“Since the onset of the pandemic, the demand for the Meals on Wheels program steadily increased until it reached its peak of 180 participants,” Longoria wrote.

Now, the agency serves about 120 people with seven meals a week – “which translates to as many as 3,200 meals per month,” wrote Longoria.

In 2019, the agency served 13,272 meals.

“So far, through the first half of this current fiscal year, that demand has increased to nearly three times as many meals for a total of 38,446,” Longoria wrote.

Longoria told the court that price hikes also created new challenges for the Meals on Wheels program.

“Right now, we are looking at prices that have stayed fairly consistent over the past five years are now increasing a dollar a meal,” Longoria told the court.

Funding for the Meals on Wheels program comes from the state – through the federal Older Americans Act, an initiative passed by the Congress in 1965 – and donations.

About 65% of the funding is through the Older Americans Act with another 35% collected from donations and the annual Festival of Trees in Ontario.

“At this time, we are reaching out to all of the resources we know are available to find supplemental funding,” said Longoria.

Longoria said if the county can’t help with funding, the agency will be forced to dip into its reserve funds or shift money from other budgets. Without financial assistance Longoria said the agency will also have to cap the number of people it can serve.

“That means screening for eligibility and then put you on a waiting list,” said Longoria.

The council also asked the court to consider “ongoing and annual support” for the council’s nutrition program.

Malheur County Judge Dan Joyce said the county is receptive to helping the Meals on Wheels program.

“We are definitely looking at it,” said Joyce. “

Joyce said the key question is where the money will come from.

“I am pretty sure it is needed,” he said.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM – Available for $5 a month. Subscribe to the digital service of the Enterprise and get the very best in local journalism. We report with care, attention to accuracy, and an unwavering devotion to fairness. Get the kind of news you’ve been looking for – day in and day out from the Enterprise.