With the Southtowns Meals-on-Wheels program projecting a budget shortfall of between $15,000 and $20,000 this year, its board decided last week to reduce the number of meals clients receive each day.
As of Aug. 5, only a hot meal at noon will be delivered. The cold meal traditionally sent along for later in the day will be eliminated.
“We’re a victim of our own success,” said Town of Concord Supervisor Gary Eppolito, who is a member of the Meals-on-Wheels Board, as are the supervisors of the other four towns – Holland, Boston, Colden and Sardinia – that the organization serves.
Enrollment this year spiked to 51 clients, Eppolito said, but he suggested that donations for the meals have not kept pace.
The board also decided to freeze enrollment.
Holland Supervisor Michael Kasprzyk told the Town Board last week that with rising costs and shrinking donations, the group had little choice but to reduce services. The board became aware of the problem in April and struggled with its options.
“This decision was not made lightly. We’re very concerned about the welfare of our clients,” Kasprzyk said.
Currently, the organization asks for $7.35 daily for two meals but accepts whatever a client can afford. Kasprzyk said some people pay more, but most pay less. With the new change, the organization will ask for a suggested donation of $5.35, which is how much Bertrand-Chaffee Hospital in Springville charges the program for each hot meal it produces.
In addition, each Meals-on-Wheels client will receive a letter asking for an increased donation.
“We’re hoping that by doing this we can keep the program viable to the end of the year,” Eppolito said.
Other area meals-on-wheels programs use a “fee-for-service” model, which requires payment. The Southtowns program operates as a separate entity distinct from other non-profits such as Meals on Wheels for Western New York. The board decided to trim services rather than switch to “fee-for-service.”
“We did not want to get into a situation where we say, ‘Sorry, you can’t pay for it. Too bad,’ ” said Eppolito, who knows of one client who lives on income of $400 a month.
The program has administrative costs and also sometimes subsidizes the cost of gas for its volunteers, who must drive long distances between stops in expansive, sparsely populated southern Erie County.
Each of the five towns in the consortium has increased its financial support of the program to $2,000, Eppolito said.