New volunteers from the Zebulon business community helped the Meals on Wheels operation there add a third delivery route last summer.
On March 1, the outfit added a fourth route with help from the Zebulon church community, enabling it to deliver hot meals weekdays to about 50 people with health and mobility issues.
“Each of us locations is only a small piece of the big pie,” said Cindy Privette, the Zebulon Meals on Wheels site coordinator. “But Zebulon is a very food-insecure area. It would really surprise people to know how many people go to bed hungry in this eastern Wake County area.”
The expansion of the Zebulon operation might contract in the near future, and not because volunteerism is on the decline. Proposed federal budget cuts pose a threat to the revenue stream Meals on Wheels of Wake County relies on to feed 1,300 seniors daily out of 12 volunteer pickup locations and eight congregate dining rooms across the county.
“The main thing it’s going to mean for us, I think, is it would make it to where we can’t take as many new clients as we would have,” Privette said.
Jenny Bertolette, national vice president of communications for Meals on Wheels, told The Washington Post that most federal money for the program originates in the Department of Health and Human Services. Several news outlets are reporting that President Donald Trump proposes to cut DHHS spending 17.9 percent. The Associated Press shows the proposed decrease at 16.2 percent.
Mary Kate Keith, the county group’s director of development and communications, isn’t certain the organization will be able to operate even at existing levels of service if the cuts occur.
About 47 percent of Wake Meals on Wheels’ funding funnels down from Older Americans Act funds, through DHHS, Keith said.
“Basically, the very specific line item Donald Trump talked about in his budget, if you were use that strict interpretation to follow 17.9 percent into our budget, it’s about $200,000,” she said.
That amount represents nearly 7 percent of Wake Meals on Wheels’ $2.9 million budget, or about 25,000 meals.
“Two-hundred thousand dollars is about the cost of having 100 seniors as clients for a year,” Keith said. “Food is our biggest expense. Obviously that would take a huge hit. We would have to reassess the program at that time if we took that big a hit, like any business would.”
The Garner Senior Center location has five delivery routes that serve about 55 clients daily.
It is also one of the eight dining rooms in the county and dishes hot meals to anywhere from 70 to 125 people at lunchtime.
Pat Rooks, the Garner site manager, said it would be a significant injustice to interfere with the service.
“We just feel like that would be a mistake,” Rooks said. “People need food. Some people, if not for Meals on Wheels, wouldn’t get anything. But it’s more than just food. It’s a means to check on elderly people, and it’s socialization for them.”
Keith said though the federal funding is signicant, it is not the only lifeline for the 43-year-old county organization.
About 45 percent of its budget last year came from fundraising.
“Not to mention the program thrives on people who donate their time to deliver the meals,” Keith said. “We know with the influx of seniors moving into Wake County, they are going to need services to help them.”