Fund for the Needy kickoff: Senior Services' program serves thousands annually, but rising costs eat into funds.
Emma Grundy couldn’t wait.
The minute the Meals on Wheels volunteer started putting her delivery on Grundy’s counter, Grundy snagged a can of grapefruit juice and popped it open, smiling broadly.
“Gotta have my juice!” she exclaimed.
Grundy, 66, of West Seattle, has received frozen-food deliveries from Meals on Wheels for more than four years, ever since her daughter became concerned she wasn’t eating right. That was two years after Grundy started struggling with arthritis, diabetes and other ailments. If it wasn’t for the service, Grundy said, she’d be in danger of regularly running out of food.
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“When I can’t get food, it sure comes in handy,” she said of her weekly deliveries.
She was just one of 50,000 older folks and their families served last year by Senior Services, a 40-year-old agency that receives support from The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy. The fund this year will distribute donations to 13 area social-service agencies; since its inception 28 years ago, the fund has raised more than $11.3 million, all of which goes to the organizations it designates for help.
Senior Services’ Meals on Wheels program is the only one in the state that offers two meals a day — breakfast and dinner — each nutritionally balanced for the needs of seniors. Recipients can choose among dozens of options such as chicken Parmigiana, stuffed peppers or meatloaf, all served with a drink and a side dish. Full breakfast options include pancakes and eggs, juice and milk.
Nearly three-quarters of recipients survive on low or very low incomes.
Grundy said the meals are delicious — so delicious, she sheepishly admits, she sometimes wants to eat more than perhaps she should.
In addition to Meals on Wheels, Senior Services provides a range of programs aimed at maintaining the emotional, social and physical well-being of older adults. They include fitness programs, outreach for both seniors and their caregivers, and day health centers, which host activities designed for the frail, including those experiencing confusion or recovering from strokes.
Most of the agency’s clients are women — a product, perhaps, of their longevity. And most live alone, something Carol Farnham, a Meals on Wheels delivery volunteer for about four years, pays close attention to. On her rounds, she notices whose televisions are almost always on, which clients seem to keep company only with cats.
“Some of them are lonely,” she said of the seniors.
Grundy is luckier than most. Her son, Andrew Lawrence, does the household chores, gets her up and off the couch and keeps her company. But other than trips to church or the doctor, she doesn’t get out, nor does she get many visitors — except through Meals on Wheels.
Anyone who’s older than 60 and is homebound qualifies for the service; in return the agency suggests a $3-per-meal donation, although most recipients can’t afford to pay. The weekly bookkeeping, according to the program’s coordinator in West Seattle, shows “a lot of zeros.”
According to Susan Compton, community-relations director for Senior Services, the program is going through tough times. At the beginning of the year, the agency predicted that Meals on Wheels would need an additional $140,000 to keep it going at current levels; without that infusion, deliveries would have to be cut or people would have to be put on waiting lists, which hasn’t happened in the history of the program. They successfully raised enough to keep the program intact.
“We went into this year knowing we would have to do a lot of work,” Compton said, adding that each year is likely to come with a shortfall.
Federal dollars, which account for one-third of the program’s funding, have remained flat while food and other costs continue to rise. In addition, a state program for low-income clients has been cut in recent years, so that Meals on Wheels now receives only one-quarter of the funds from it that it once did.
Senior Services’ Community Dining program is also struggling to keep pace with rising costs. Designed for seniors who are mobile, this program offers lunch five days a week at all area senior centers. They sit together at big tables where they can eat and socialize.
“When you get to my age, you love the company,” said Lee Rocz, who dines at the West Seattle Senior Center four days a week. “Who likes to eat alone?”
Rocz rattles off the reasons she has attended the daily luncheons for years: “The food is good, the price is right and the company is excellent.”
And there are many discussions, given that many diners are hard of hearing or set in their ways.
“Always,” Rocz said. “Good and bad — we don’t limit it.”
Maureen O’Hagan: 206-464-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org