By BOB JOHNSON
With a new Older Americans Act languishing in Congress, Elaine Money and Sandra Gross worry about senior citizens they serve meals to in nine counties of southeast Kansas, including Allen.
Gross, executive director of Senior Services of SEK, Inc., and Money, public relations and education coordinator, were in Iola Thursday to visit with Iola Senior Citizens board members.
The Iola group sells clothing and household goods in its thrift shop at 223 N. State St. Proceeds, about $25,000 each year, go to local causes. Senior services would like to be in the loop.
Joe Hess, spokesman for Iola Senior Citizens, said a decision would be made in August.
“We are going to think about it,” Hess said of board members. “It would be a change for us. In the past we’ve just supported strictly local groups.”
Hess said a concern was that expanding contributions could lead to Iola Senior Citizens not being able to support local causes as much as they’d like.
“A lot are being affected by cuts,” he said. “We could have requests from 50 or 60 groups,” if funding were expanded. “That would be a big change for us.”
Meanwhile, Iola Senior Citizens voted Thursday to give Iola Kiwanis Club $1,000 to help with a project in Riverside Park to install playground equipment accessible to handicapped children.
GROSS SAID the fear was federal funding for food services — served in congregate settings and delivered to homes of the elderly at noon five days a week — would be cut.
The anticipation, she said, is a cut of 10 percent, which would take $40,000 out of Senior Services’ budget of $1 million, which includes $400,000 in federal funding.
Gross said if federal funds were cut in the new fiscal year — the fed’s starts on Oct. 1 — the response likely would be a reduction in the agency’s staff, and those receiving meals also would be at risk. Some congregate meal sites might have to be shuttered.
The agencies 12-member board would decide how to react to a funding cut, Gross said.
“I know it would be staff at first,” she said. “Two, three, five people? I don’t know how many” it would take to deal with a $40,000 funding reduction.
Gross thinks the agency in large measure works under the public radar. Enacting federal legislation for the meals dates to 1965, when Richard Nixon was president, and they have been a part of senior services in southeast Kansas about that long.
Money said she and Gross were working to make the public aware of funding concerns.
“That’s what we came to Iola for,” she said. “To let the Iola Senior Citizens board members know. Also, we’re eager to speak to any group, bring a program about congregate and home-delivered meals.”
Money may be contacted at the Senior Services in Coffeyville, 620-251-7313.
Dealing with funding issues is not a new experience for the agency, though. Its funding has been static for 10 years, meaning it has had to deal with inflation without any increase in financial support.
In addition to federal funding, the agency depends on state grants and what participants contribute — suggested at $3.50 per meal.
“But no one is denied,” said Money. “If a person can’t pay, they still receive a meal, and no one ever says anything about it.”
“IT’S A QUIET problem — one in seven seniors struggles with hunger,” Money said. “And the meals program is the best-kept secret in southeast Kansas.
In its nine-county area, Senior Services delivers meals to congregate sites and homes five days a week that on the average are eaten by more than 2,000 people, 60 and older. Meals are prepared in Coffeyville, Chanute and Pittsburg and distributed through local sites, such as Iola’s Senior Citizens Center, 204 N. Jefferson Ave.
Meals on Wheels motto is “We Deliver Smiles,” which “is so true,” Money said.
The person delivering a daily meal at noon to a homebound senior often is the only person that person sees on a regular basis, a social aspect of the program that is important.
Those who deliver meals sometimes provide a link to care whenever a senior develops a physical problem and there have been cases when a person delivering a meal has been a lifesaver, finding a meal participant in critical need of care.
The agency is eager to find additional funding, and also to identify volunteers to help with meal delivery.
“We need all the help we can get,” Gross said, but that doesn’t include food. The agency is bound by regulations affecting the food it serves, including that it can’t be donated.
“There are a lot of food pantries in the area that will take food, though,” Gross added.